Oxytocin and childbirth: what it is for, risks, when to administer it

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Oxytocin and childbirth

We often hear about oxytocin in relation to induced delivery. But what is it about? What are its functions? These and others are the doubts that revolve around this hormone.

Let's try to better understand in this guide what oxytocin is, what its function is, why doctors sometimes administer it at the time of labor and many other useful information.

In this article

  • What is oxytocin
  • What happens when oxytocin is low
  • Induced delivery and oxytocin
  • Risks of using oxytocin

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone that acts mainly on the breast and uterus. It is produced by the hypothalamus and is secreted into the bloodstream by the posterior pituitary gland.

It performs the function of regulating peripheral organs and tissues during the moment of childbirth and breastfeeding, stimulating sexual desire and promoting affectivity and empathy. At the time of labor it is precisely oxytocin that causes contractions of the smooth uterine muscle cells, favoring the expulsive phase of the fetus.

In summary, its main functions are:

  • the initiation of regular contractions during labor and leading to the birth of the newborn
  • breastfeeding of the newborn

What happens when oxytocin is low

When oxytocin is low it can happen that the contractions do not start naturally and, therefore, a woman arrives at the 41st week without any signs of prodromal phase and subsequent labor.

This is the case where childbirth is induced andoxytocin administered by vein during the finish. The latter, in fact, has the fundamental role of stimulate the uterine muscles to contract it also increases the production of prostaglandins, which further increase contractions.

Induced delivery and oxytocin

The induction of childbirth is necessary when the woman arrives to term without the labor starting on its own. It is a fairly common situation especially if it is a first pregnancy.

Naturally, the woman should lose the mucous plug, enter the so-called prodromal phase and after a variable time (from hours to days) go into labor with regular contractions that lead from the dilation phase to the expulsion phase. However, labor does not always occur in this regular way and when it does not start, doctors must necessarily intervene.

L'induction through oxytocin it represents one of the ideal solutions when the woman's carvice is already dilated and thinned. The intravenous administration of oxytocin to the expectant mother is therefore carried out to regulate her contractions and facilitate the expulsion of the newborn. 

Risks of using oxytocin

La administration of oxytocin to induce childbirth, it stimulates contractions, helps at the moment of birth and is always carried out with the utmost attention by the medical staff. However, there are some contraindications: the administration via vein of this hormone, in fact, could reduce the baby's heart rate.

Not only oxytocin, in fact, but also other medicines used for the induction of childbirth have, as a possible side effect, the reduction of the fetal heart rate and the decrease in the oxygen supply that the mother allocates to the fetus.

The situation must be carefully monitored by obstetricians and gynecologists and, in case of risk, the most immediate solution is an emergency cesarean. 

Sources: yourhormones.info; www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au.

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