Unfortunately for impatient mums-to-be, this one’s a myth. It probably has its origins in the fact that curry often has other effects ‘down there’. Spicy food is known to irritate the intestines (hence the post-curry diarrhoea that some people experience), and it might also irritate the uterus and in some cases cause small contractions. But there’s no evidence that this could bring on labour.
Castor oil – a vegetable oil from castor beans – is a more powerful laxative, and some small studies have concluded that the oil can help induce labour. In 2012, researchers in Germany suggested a possible mechanism, finding that an acid in castor oil mimics the effects of hormone-like substances in the body called prostaglandins, which can stimulate contractions in the intestines and uterus. However, the evidence is mixed, and castor oil’s laxative effects can cause nausea, diarrhoea and dehydration, so pregnant women are advised to avoid it.
There are a whole host of other foods and drinks that have been said to help bring on labour, including dates, pineapple, raspberry leaf tea and aubergine (‘eggplant’ in the US). The latter is probably due to the labour-inducing claims made for a famous ‘eggplant parmesan’ dish at a restaurant near Atlanta, Georgia. But there are no scientifically proven ways to induce labour at home, so pregnant women are best off waiting it out.