Birth Planning

What is synthetic oxytocin?

Oxytocin is one of the hormones that plays a part in the labor process. Injecting your body with synthetic oxytocin is expected to cause uterine contractions. It may be used to start labor, speed up a slow labor, or to cause the uterus to clamp down and stop bleeding after your baby and placenta are born.

Oxytocin is a love hormone. It is released during breastfeeding and by both males and females during orgasm. Oxytocin is one of the hormones responsible for the loving bonds that form between people.

Synthetic oxytocin is a clear liquid that is injected into an intravenous drip. It can be found under the name Pitocin, syntocinon or generic oxytocin. Pitocin is the trademark name that King Pharmaceuticals uses for its synthetic oxytocin. Dr. Michel Odent points out several important differences between naturally occurring oxytocin and synthetic forms. A major difference is that the naturally occurring oxytocin is released in pulses while synthetic administration is continuous. According to Dr. Odent, this may be one of the reasons doses of the synthetic hormone must be so much higher than what occurs naturally. Additionally, it is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. The naturally occurring form is created in the brain and so is able to affect behavior before being released into the blood stream. The synthetic form does not have an opportunity to affect the brain and so is not able to encourage the bonding between new families.

Potential Benefits

According to A guide to effective care in pregnancy an childbirth, oxytocin is slower to work than prostaglandin preparations at producing contractions. However, the short half-life of oxytocin (about 15 minutes) allows it to be stopped if the uterus becomes over stimulated or baby shows signs of distress. Synthetic oxytocin is cheaper and easier to store than the more effective prostaglandin E2 preparations, making it more easily available.

Risks for Mother

  • Mothers using oxytocin frequently report increased pain with contractions. Most mother using oxytocin also use pain medication to handle the increased pain.
  • Use requires continuous monitoring to detect complications and/or progress which interferes with mobility.
  • Use requires an IV for administration.
  • Use can cause long contractions and contractions with double peaks.
  • Use slightly increases the possibility of a uterine rupture.
  • Use increases the likelihood of a fetal malpresentation or malposition.
  • Use is associated with an increased need for cesarean surgery for dystocia and fetal distress.
  • Oxytocin without also breaking the bag of waters has a high failure rate for inducing labor.

Risks for Baby

  • Pitocin use increases the likelihood of depressed fetal heart rate patterns.
  • Pitocin use increases the chances of Fetal Distress.>

Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. 1999. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Enkin, Keirse, Nilson, Crowther, Duley, Hodnett and Hofmeyr. A guide to effective care in pregnancy and childbirth Third Edition. 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Odent, Michel. Drips of synthetic oxytocin. Downloaded January 1, 2008.

Jennifer (Author)