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BMJ. 1988 Jul 16;297(6642):167-9.

Plasma oxytocin during third stage of labour: comparison of natural and active management.

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Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Princess Mary Maternity Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne.


The incidences of postpartum haemorrhage and retained placenta have decreased with the use of synthetic oxytocin and controlled cord traction. Whether such treatment is valuable is open to question because of the lack of clinical and physiological studies. The physiological effects of synthetic oxytocin on plasma concentrations of oxytocin and events during delivery were assessed. Plasma oxytocin concentration was determined in serial samples during the late second stage and throughout the third stage of labour in 25 women. Ten women received combined ergotamine and synthetic oxytocin intramuscularly and 15 were not treated. The geometric mean plasma oxytocin concentration significantly increased in the women given oxytocin when measured before and after delivery of the fetal anterior shoulder (3.1 (SD 2.0) pmol/l before and 15.9 (2.7) pmol/l after). Six of the women who did not receive treatment showed a significant increase in geometric mean plasma oxytocin concentration before and after delivery of the fetal shoulder (3.2 (2.0) pmol/l before and 6.4 (2.0) pmol/l after) and nine did not show an increase (geometric mean 2.4 (3.1) pmol/l before and 2.2 (2.2) pmol/l after). Of these nine women, two had an abnormal third stage of delivery; one woman had a postpartum haemorrhage and one required manual removal of the placenta. As it is impossible to predict which women will show a rise in the plasma concentration of endogenous oxytocin, intramuscular oxytocin should be given routinely.

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