No Raised ADHD Risk from Labor Rx

Oxytocin use during labor not tied to increased attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In the quest to find the cause of ADHD, anything a child is exposed to can be on the list of suspects. New evidence may mark one potential cause off that list.

A new study found that the rate of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children was not raised in those whose mothers received oxytocin during the child's birth.

“Our findings therefore do not support the hypothesis of a causal role of ... exposure to oxytocin during delivery on the development of ADHD,” wrote the authors of this study, led by Mette Juhl, PhD, of Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.

Andre F. Hall, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with Birth and Women's Care in Fayetteville, NC, told dailyRx News that oxytocin is an important part of the birth process for many women.

"Oxytocin, also known as Pitocin, is the most widely used medication for the [starting] and [supplementation] of labor," Dr. Hall said. "Oxytocin is a hormone that is naturally found in the body and is produced by the pituitary gland. The exact mechanism for the commencement of labor is not known, however, increased levels of oxytocin are central to this process."

The majority of births in the US use the synthetic form of this hormone, according to a past study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"Synthetic oxytocin is not known to have any risks to children that are exposed to this medication during labor that would be any different than the risks of exposure to the labor process itself by the processes that occur naturally," said Dr. Hall.

Possible side effects of oxytocin include irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure in the mother and low blood oxygen levels and seizures in the baby.

Because so many children have been exposed to oxytocin at the time of their birth, Dr. Juhl and team wanted to test whether the hormone might be the cause of the rising rate of ADHD in children.

In 2003, about 8 percent of children were diagnosed with ADHD. That figure rose to 9.5 percent In 2007 and 11 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Juhl and team studied data on nearly 250,000 births in Denmark. Of these, 26 percent involved the use of oxytocin during labor.

These researchers looked at the rate of ADHD in children born to women who had been given oxytocin during labor — not to start labor. They said that, in cases where oxytocin was used to start labor, the reasons why labor needed to be induced might complicate the study results.

The frequency of ADHD in children exposed to oxytocin during birth was slightly less than 1 percent — similar to the rate in those not exposed to the hormone. ADHD is a chronic condition that most often affects children but sometimes lasts into adulthood. It is marked by trouble focusing, being hyperactive and behaving impulsively.

This study was published online Feb. 9 in the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Juhl and colleagues disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 6, 2015
Last Updated:
February 10, 2015