Today, I came across a study about mental health and medically administered (synthetic) oxytocin. It gave me first a, "wow i'm really glad that someone is researching this" and then a, "hmm let's think about this some more." So here I am, thinking about this potentially game-changing study out loud - with you.
Exposure to Synthetic Oxytocin May Increase Risk of Postpartum Depression, Anxiety
Jan 30, 2017 - Depression and Anxiety Journal
A study over 11 years and totalling almost 11,000 women finds an 30-36% increase in likelihood of postpartum mood disorders in mothers who received synthetic oxytocin in labour. Being that mothers receive various dosages over different amounts of time, further research is needed to determine if this might be due to dosage, duration or other factors.
Now, lets talk about what is the naturally occurring hormone in a mother's body. The natural oxytocin is called the love hormone. In labour, it (along with adrenaline, prostaglandins & endorphins) is responsible for creating those wonderful waves of contractions that help baby descend and get pushed out. Oxytocin will also, "cause feelings of calm and well-being" (The Birth Partner). As the baby is being born, a mother's oxytocin is at quite high levels so as to promote bonding. We know that kissing, dancing, and touch can create a surge of oxytocin. So use your natural hormones to your advantage in labour.
As for the synthetic form of oxytocin, things are quite different. The synthetic form is administered to speed along labour, creating stronger contractions than those created by mama on her own. Sometimes it is used to start labour during and induction. The drug is given in an IV drip in varying doses according to the mother's needs and health care provider's determination. Sometimes even when no synthetic oxytocin has been used in labour, it will be given as a precaution immediately after the baby's birth to stop or slow bleeding.
Why synthetic oxytocin gets a bad rap is because it is often only the tip of the iceberg. Because an oxytocin drip creates a stronger contraction, a mother might find it harder to cope and seek out other medical interventions. Generally, after an intervention like the use of synthetic oxytocin, there tends to be a, "cascade of interventions" that follows.For example, a epidural to deal with the pain. It is important to be informed about the general options and outcomes available during labour so that mama can make informed decisions. The medical staff has an important role to play in maintaining the health of both mother and baby. However, mama has a responsibility to her own health and her baby's too to be aware and educated. Read the literature, talk to your care providers, decide what scenarios you are ok with and be active in any healthcare decision which affects you.
The study determined that 30-36% of mothers who received some degree of oxytocin during her labour were more likely to self-report depression and anxiety in the postpartum period. If this study's findings can be replicated or backed in some other way, it would be interesting to see if the overall usage of this drug would decrease over time. Personally, I see how a more powerful oxytocin could create a feeling of dissatisfaction with one's own birth. It is a hormone that mama's body creates naturally so when it is pumped through to mama & baby in higher doses we see mother's having a harder time coping with the pain and babies in distress. This is not meant to be a scare tactic, I am simply analyzing the potential for mood disorders linked to an overwhelming birth.
This study isn't all black and white. Synthetic use of oxytocin is not likely to be the only factor contributing to mood disorders. I would also like to address the cascade of interventions that is quick to follow a synthetic drip of oxytocin. Those interventions or a combination of interventions could be a compounding factor. Was mama properly explained the medical jargon and understood the full reason for any intervention? Did she feel in control of her labour or a side show to the contractions graph shooting out of a beeping monitor? We learned earlier in 2016 that pre-existing or prenatal mood disorders were a high determinant of postpartum mental health. There are so many factors to consider.
The reading and dissection of this article and study is how you as mamas and parents should be taking charge of your health care decisions. Take in the information, process it, look to other sources and form an opinion. My lesson for you is to think critically and speak up. Yes, there are medical reasons for interventions in labour and they are valid. My opinion is that you understand what is happening to your body, because it will likely have some long term mental and potentially physical outcomes.
Read the article here.