Oxytocin: at birth and beyond. A systematic review of the long-term effects of peripartum oxytocin

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Abstract

Oxytocin is one of the most commonly used medications during labour and delivery. Recent insights from basic neuroscience research suggest that the uterotonic effects of oxytocin may arguably be trivial when compared with its profound effects on higher-order human behaviour. The purpose of this review is to highlight the potential consequences of manipulating oxytocinergic signalling during the peripartum period and its long-term impact on the maternal-infant dyad. We identified four domains where modulation of oxytocinergic signalling might be consequential: postpartum depression; breastfeeding; neurodevelopment; and chronic pain, and performed a literature search to address the impact of peripartum oxytocin administration. We have shown modest, but inconsistent, evidence linking peripartum oxytocin administration with postpartum depression. Breastfeeding success appeared to be negatively correlated with peripartum oxytocin exposure, perhaps secondary to impaired primitive neonatal reflexes and maternal-infant bonding. The association between perinatal oxytocin exposure and subsequent development of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism in the offspring was weak, but these studies were limited by the lack of information on the cumulative dose. Finally, we identified substantial evidence for analgesic and anti-hypersensitivity effects of oxytocin which might partly explain the low incidence of chronic pain after caesarean birth. Although most data presented here are observational, our review points to a compelling need for robust clinical studies to better dissect the impact of peripartum oxytocin administration, and as stewards of its use, increase the precision with which we administer oxytocin to prevent overuse of the drug.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1526-1537
Number of pages12
JournalAnaesthesia
Volume76
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2021

Keywords

  • breastfeeding
  • caesarean delivery
  • chronic pain
  • haemorrhage
  • oxytocin
  • postpartum depression

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