Oxytocin was discovered in the 1960’s and was shortly after used as medical aid during and after childbirth, mainly because of its beneficial effect on the womb’s contraction and the milk ducts in women's breasts during breastfeeding.
What it is
Synthetic oxytocin is almost identical to the natural hormone that our bodies create. The pain stimulating effect from added oxytocin is equal to the hormone we release ourselves, the difference is that the quantity can vary and thus affects us differently. However, it can be worth mentioning that synthetic oxytocin can’t get past the blood-brain barrier and as a result, does not provide the same calming effect or pain relief as our own oxytocin.
Why and how it is used
During a delivery, the synthetic hormone is sometimes used to aid the woman by giving her more powerful contractions in order to prevent the delivery from slowing down, and to give both mother and baby strength. The hormone is given as an intravenous drip and the woman receiving it usually feels the contractions becoming more powerful within 15-30 minutes. The purpose of this treatment is to add oxytocin to the body in a comparable dose to the natural release during childbirth. The struggle is to measure and copy the exact pattern of the natural release, compared to the intravenously added oxytocin. This is why sometimes differing amounts are required, depending on the situation and how receptible the woman is to the hormone. The treatment is administered on a clear schedule that can be adapted individually ensuring that each mother and child remain healthy as the delivery progresses.
Every woman is offered a smaller dose of synthetic oxytocin, either intravenously or intramuscularly as soon as the delivery is completed to aid the womb contract. This is a preemptive treatment to prevent more bleeding than normal. As the body naturally releases heightened levels of oxytocin after the birth, the added dose is a routine and a recommendation from the healthcare system. It’s not a mandatory treatment, if the woman is healthy, the pregnancy and delivery has been normal, the treatment can be waived.
Another form of synthetic oxytocin is available as a spray and can be used to aid breastfeeding. The spray can be applied directly on the breasts or through the nose via the mucous membrane. This kind of oxytocin treatment is usually not a routine at hospitals today, but mostly a situational specific treatment that can be recommended by healthcare professionals.
Find more information about oxytocin in Articles & Tools under the category Pregnancy.
Source: - Myles, M.F., Marshall, J.E. & Raynor, M.D. (red.) (2014). Myles textbook for midwives. (16th edition). Edinburgh: Elsevier.