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Labour and beyond: The roles of synthetic and endogenous oxytocin in transition to motherhood

02 April 2017
Volume 25 · Issue 4


During spontaneous labour, endogenous oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland and initiates uterine contractions. In some women, it is necessary to induce or augment labour contractions. Induction or augmentation of labour using synthetic oxytocin (Syntocinon) is one of the most common interventions to facilitate the progress of labour and birth. Both Syntocinon and endogenous oxytocin affect the body through oxytocin receptors. Although the use of Syntocinon is regarded as a relatively safe intervention during labour, it works in a different way from endogenous oxytocin and has different effects on the mother and child. Syntocinon may negatively affect birth outcomes for mother and baby, interfere with the success of lactation and breastfeeding, impair the mother-child attachment and may affect the child's development. We review the effect of endogenous oxytocin and Syntocinon on the health and wellbeing of women during labour and after birth, discuss the benefits of endogenous oxytocin and highlight some adverse effects of Syntocinon.

In the course of spontaneous physiological labour, endogenous oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland and initiates uterine contractions. However, when it is deemed medically necessary to induce or augment labour contractions, synthetic oxytocin (Syntocinon) is administered intravenously. Induction or augmentation of labour using Syntocinon is one of the most common interventions for facilitating the progress of labour and birth (Wood et al, 2014). Between 30% and 50% of women receive Syntocinon for augmentation of labour, and 50–70% receive it for induction of labour (Calder et al, 2008). In addition, Syntocinon is often administered intramuscularly after the birth of the baby and during the third stage of labour to prevent post-partum haemorrhage. The administration of Syntocinon depends on a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, maternal medical conditions if they become problematic and necessitate the induction of labour (i.e. hypertension, gestational diabetes, obstetric cholestasis) and fetal indications (i.e. macrosomia, small for gestational age, oligohydramnios, abnormalities) (Declercq et al, 2007).

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