Oxytocin Induced Labor

Oxytocin does not prevent c-sections for failed labor

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Beautiful, painful, overwhelming. These words are true and don't even begin to describe the labor process. These feelings are magnified if labor fails to progress.

A recent review finds that oxytocin is particularly effective speeding up the second stage of labor but doesn't necessarily prevent Caesarean sections or the use of foreceps.

"Oxytocin may speed up the labor but ask your OB/GYN if it's right for you."

Study author George Bugg, a fetal medicine consultant at Queen’s Medical Center in Nottingham, England, reports that oxytocin may be used to speed up the second stage of labor, and may have benefits. Oxytocin clearly benefits the third stage of labor by reducing the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.

When the researchers compared oxytocin infusions with no treatment or delayed oxytocin use, they found that infusions had no effect on the number of C-sections performed or complicated vaginal delivery rates. There were also no reported harmful effects on mothers either.

Bugg explains that when labor gets stalled early in the birth process, it is potentially dangerous to the health of mother and child. Slow labor necessitates 20 percent of all C-sections.

Buggs describes oxytocin as a synthetic hormone that increases the strength, duration and frequency of contractions. The infusion regimens are standardized worldwide. If too much is given, the contractions will become too strong, which, in severe cases, can cause the womb to rupture or the baby to die. The standard treatment isn't harmful, and in the reviewed studies, can shorten labor an average of two hours.

Jonathan Schaffir, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University College of Medicine, reports that using oxytocin to speed up the labor process isn’t accepted by everyone. The lay press often vilifies the use of oxytocin, characterizing those doctors who use it as "evil" and are trying to force women to accept it.

Because of this characterization, some people wrongly assume it is harmful and may be unnecessarily used. Schaffir encourages people to read this study and understand that oxytocin isn't harmful.

Should oxytocin be used to quicken the labor process? Maybe. John Thorp, M.D., a professor of obstetrics gynecology and maternal child health at the University of North Carolina, reports that the parts of the birthing process are still mysterious to doctors, which makes it somewhat hard to generalize.

More knowledge is needed about normal and abnormal labor, with particular attention to understanding its underlying biological phenomenon. Once this is known, Dr. Thorp believes doctors will be able to distinguish which women will benefit from an oxytocin boost and which will not.

This new review is comprised of eight studies that included 1,338 women, to evaluate whether the use of oxytocin posed any risk to women or helped them avoid the complication of prolonged labor.

The review was published by The Cochrane Collaboration.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 14, 2011
Last Updated:
July 19, 2011