Most of the common tropes we have about pregnancy- pregnancy brain, increased appetite, and so on- we get from movies and TV shows. We’ve all seen birth scenes where a woman’s water breaks (usually in the middle of a party, for additional intrigue), she’s rushed to the hospital, and five minutes later, her new bundle of joy is born. It’s the perfect plot for a thirty-minute sitcom, but it rarely works that way in real life. Reality has a surprising amount of detail.
In fact, around 1 in 5 labours are initiated by an induction or augmentation. Oxytocin is one of the tools used to nudge the birth process along. It’s a powerful drug that can trigger contractions in no time. But, like most drugs, it does have a few potential downsides as well.
Here’s a closer look at what Oxytocin induction is, how it works, and the side effects and risk factors you’ll want to consider before taking it.
What is Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is the synthetic counterpart of the naturally-produced hormone oxytocin, which plays an important role during labour by stimulating the uterus and making it contract. In cases where the naturally-produced Oxytocin is insufficient, giving it a boost in the form of Oxytocin is helpful to get things going and keep labour on track.
What is an Oxytocin induction?
Oxytocin is one of many tools your health care team can use to induce labour if your progress has stalled. But it’s not always the first option they turn to cervical ripening (which prepares your cervix for labour), membrane stripping, or actually breaking your water all can, and often do, induce contractions relatively quickly as well.
But if cervical ripening and membrane rupturing fail to expedite the process, your doctor may choose to administer Oxytocin through an IV drip- starting with a small dose and gradually increasing it until contractions are two to three minutes apart. All the while, your medical team will be monitoring the situation closely to gauge how you’re dealing with the stress of labour.
Your dose might be stopped or dialed back once things have kicked off, or if your contractions get too long or strong. Regardless, once your labour is in full swing, it should progress just like a non-induced labour.
How fast does Oxycotin work?
Oxytocin affects each pregnant woman differently, so it’s hard to say when labour contractions might start. When contractions do start, they can come on strong and tend to be faster and more regular than if labour had begun on its own. If you’re planning on getting an epidural, it’s a good idea to ask about it when your Oxytocin is given, so it’s in place once labour does start.
Are there any side effects of using Oxycotin during labour?
Your contractions may start off stronger and faster with Oxytocin than without. This has the potential to put added stress on your baby as well as your uterus, so both you and your little one will be monitored continuously. To that end, you’ll need to wear a fetal monitor belt, which can restrict your movement and make it more difficult to change positions during labour.
Some women who’ve experienced labour both aided by Oxytocin and not report that the drug can make the process feel harder and more intense. Their subjective reports are backed up empirically as well- findings show that women who receive Oxytocin are more likely to get an epidural for pain relief.
What are the risks of Oxycotin, if any?
Oxytocin has the potential to overstimulate the uterus, which can induce contractions too quickly or too frequently. With this comes certain risks, some of them serious. Namely:
- Changes in fetal heart rate
- Increased chance for C-section
- Uterine rupture
These risks can be worrisome, but Oxytocin is generally considered a safe drug and has been used in millions of births for over 50 years. And there are plenty of instances where it’s the best option for inducing labour. Your provider can help you weigh your individual risks and benefits and help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
Is Oxycotin ever used after birth?
Yes. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics, and Neonatal Nurses as well as the World Health Organization recommend giving Oxytocin after birth to prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage, which affects around 3 percent of women in the United States. That said, if you’re at low risk for postpartum hemorrhage and would prefer not to get Oxytocin, let your provider know. Together you can determine whether other options can be used to manage your postpartum bleeding.
Oxytocin can be a useful way to start or expedite labour, but the drug does have some downsides. If your health care provider recommends it, have a conversation about the pros and cons of Oxytocin induction to decide what’s best for you and your baby.
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