Drugs Used in Labor

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Drugs Used in Labor


These drugs are used to induce (start) or continue labor.


The drug decribed here, oxytocin, makes the uterus (womb) contract. Physicians use it to deliberately start labor. Because there are some risks with using oxytocin, this should be done only when there are good medical reasons. Any woman who is being given oxytocin should make sure she has discussed the benefits and risks with her physician.

Oxytocin also may be used to control bleeding after delivery or to help make the milk flow in women who are breastfeeding their babies.


Oxytocin is a hormone and is available only with a physician's prescription. When used to start or continue labor, it is slowly injected into a vein. A nasal spray form is used to increase milk flow in breastfeeding. Some commonly used brand names are Pitocin and Syntocinon.

Recommended dosage

The dosages given here are average doses. However, doses may be different for different patients. Follow the orders of the physician who prescribed the drug.

For increasing milk production:

One spray into one or both nostrils, two-three minutes before nursing or using a breast pump.

For starting or continuing labor:

The physician in charge will determine the appropriate dose.


Oxytocin does not help increase or continue labor in all patients. When it does not help, the physician may deliver the baby by cesarean section.

In women who are especially sensitive to oxytocin, the drug may cause contractions to become too strong. This could tear the uterus or deprive the fetus of blood and oxygen during labor.

Oxytocin does not help improve milk flow in all women who are breastfeeding. Check with a physician if the drug does not seem to be working.

Women with heart disease, high blood pressure, or kidney disease should let their physicians know about these conditions before taking oxytocin. Also, anyone who has had an unusual reaction to oxytocin in the past should inform their physician.

Side effects

Oxytocin has caused irregular heartbeat and increased bleeding in some women after delivery. It may also cause jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin) in newborns.

Other side effects are rare, but may include nausea, vomiting, confusion, dizziness, convulsions, breathing problems, headache, hives, skin rash, itching, pelvic or abdominal pain, and weakness. The nasal spray form may cause watery eyes or irritation of the nose.


Anyone who takes oxytocin should let the physician know all other medicines she is taking.


Cesarean section The delivery of a baby through a surgical procedure.

Fetus A developing baby inside the womb.

Hormone A substance that is produced in one part of the body, then travels through the bloodstream to another part of the body where it has its effect.