Oxytocin is an important hormone, neurotransmitter, and peptide within the human body. Frequently called a love hormone, oxytocin plays several roles across the female reproductive system. Typically associated with mother and child bonding, as well as lactation, this chemical may have effects that extend into childbirth.
Originally discovered in the early 1900s, oxytocin has been researched for over a century. As an endogenous, naturally occurring chemical, it may provide several enhancing benefits in both men and women. In women, it has been associated with childbirth and labor. Most notably, oxytocin produced by the pituitary gland or supplemented may be able to induce labor in some women.
Several experiments have been conducted on oxytocin to induce labor. Synthetic oxytocin and analogs to it have also been observed in clinical settings. Over the past couple decades, oxytocin and its analogs have been studied on women bearing premature or late term pregnancies.
In a study conducted in early 2000, researchers administered a synthetic analog of oxytocin to women experiencing premature labor. The engineered compound, known as atosiban, was used as an antagonist of oxytocin receptors. That is, it was used to provide opposite effects. Another study in late 2000 observed the use of oxytocin on women carrying pregnancies past their expected due date.
In the earlier of the two studies, atosiban was injected into women who were exhibiting premature labor. Following the injections, pregnancy terms were observed. Compared to placebo groups, women given atosiban took 5 more days to give birth. In the later study, induced birth rates were analyzed. Over the past several decades, oxytocin appears to be used more and more for inducing birth in currently due and overdue pregnant women.
These experiments and observations appeared to have predictably opposite effects. Those given oxytocin appeared to go into labor following its administration. Those given atosiban experienced delayed labor.
These results demonstrated important and possibly favorable effects of oxytocin. The antagonist of oxytocin receptors, atosiban, appeared to prolong pregnancy terms. As chemical antagonists typically have opposing effects, this suggests that regular oxytocin may have labor inducing properties.
The labor stimulating properties of oxytocin are further emphasized and implied by the study on induced labor. As the rates of induced labors within the United States doubled, many of such cases used oxytocin. Considering its clinical use and appeal, oxytocin may be able to stimulate birth when formulated into a nasal spray. Although it is usually administered through injections, oxytocin does have potential bioavailability when used intranasally.
Overall, oxytocin has demonstrated several labor-related benefits in clinical studies. Being used so frequently in hospital settings, oxytocin may be of use in women needing to stimulate childbirth. Should complications arise during childbirth, oxytocin has the potential to ease the stressful and painful experience that is labor.
However, many women may be hesitant in receiving oxytocin injections. Should there be any fears or uncertainties regarding the child’s safety.