Oxytocin use while Breastfeeding
Drugs containing Oxytocin: Pitocin, Syntocinon
Oxytocin Levels and Effects while Breastfeeding
Summary of Use during Lactation
Although oxytocin is an essential hormone in lactation, administration of oxytocin to mothers having difficulty in breastfeeding has not been clearly shown to have a beneficial effect on lactation success or in the treatment of breast engorgement. It might be of benefit in women who have lost the neuronal connection between the breast and hypothalamus. Effects on the infant are unlikely when given during breastfeeding. However, some studies suggest that oxytocin given during labor can negatively affect breastfeeding, possibly by reducing sucking behavior in the newborn.
Maternal Levels. Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.
Infant Levels. Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.
Effects in Breastfed Infants
Relevant published information was not found as of the revision date.
Possible Effects on Lactation
Oxytocin is reportedly used by some midwives in Switzerland as a galactogogue.
A small study found no difference in symptoms between subcutaneous oxytocin 2.5 international units daily and placebo after 3 days of treatment for breast engorgement.
An early randomized, placebo-controlled trial used oxytocin nasal spray in the mothers of newborns, but lactation management fell far short of what is considered acceptable nowadays. The study found that the spray might be useful in decreasing breast engorgement slightly in the mothers of full-term infants, but no difference was found in the average infant weight loss between birth and day 4 in the oxytocin and placebo groups.
Two similarly designed trials studied oxytocin nasal spray in mothers of preterm newborns who were pumping milk for their infants. The first studied mothers of infants born before 38 weeks and used a total of 3 units of intranasal oxytocin (Syntocinon-Sandoz, 40 units/mL) before pumping each breast for10 minutes a breast pump four times daily. Among primiparous mothers, milk production during days 2 to 5 days postpartum was 1964 mL in those who used oxytocin and 510 mL in those who received placebo spray. Because of the large and statistically significant effect of oxytocin among primiparous women, the trial was stopped after only 8 primiparous mothers had been studied. No statistically significant difference was found between oxytocin and placebo among 4 multiparous women who were attempting to breastfeed for the first time. The paper did not report giving the mothers any instructions in lactation technique.
Fifty-one mothers who delivered an infant of less than 35 weeks gestation were studied. Twenty-seven mothers used 4 units of intranasal oxytocin (Syntocinon-Novartis, 40 units/mL), and 24 mothers received an identical placebo spray before pumping with a breast pump. All mothers were given instructions on using hand massage before pumping and advised to pump every 3 hours. No difference in milk production over the first 5 days postpartum was found between mothers who received oxytocin (median 667 mL) and placebo (median 530 mL), although women receiving oxytocin produced slightly more milk on day 2 of the study. Parity had no effect in this study.
Several factors might explain the differences in findings between the studies. Because of the great interpatient variability in milk production documented in the recent study and the small number of patients in the first study, the finding in the earlier study may have been due to chance. A 50% higher dose of oxytocin was used in the first study, which may have caused a greater effect. Another plausible explanation is the good lactation support given to mothers in the recent larger study that seemed to be lacking in the early study.
Two case reports indicate that oxytocin nasal spray may facilitate letdown in tetraplegic women who have lost the neuronal connection between the nipple and the hypothalamus.
An observational study of 20 primiparous women found that those who were exclusively breastfeeding at 3 months (63%) had received a lower dose of oxytocin during delivery (mean total dosage 1363 mIU) than those who were not exclusively breastfeeding (mean total dosage 3088 mIU). This result was attributed to an inhibitory effect on neonatal sucking by the infant caused by oxytocin.
1. Fernandez IO, Gabriel MM, Martinez AM et al. Newborn feeding behavior depressed by intrapartum oxytocin: a pilot study. Acta Paediatr. 2012;101:749-54. PMID: 22452314
2. Jonas W, Johansson LM, Nissen E et al. Effects of intrapartum oxytocin administration and epidural analgesia on the concentration of plasma oxytocin and prolactin, in response to suckling during the second day postpartum. Breastfeed Med. 2009;4:71-82. PMID: 19210132
3. Jordan S, Emery S, Watkins A et al. Associations of drugs routinely given in labour with breastfeeding at 48 hours: analysis of the Cardiff births survey. BJOG. 2009;116:1622-32. PMID: 19735379
4. Winterfeld U, Meyer Y, Panchaud A, Einarson A. Management of deficient lactation in Switzerland and Canada: A survey of midwives' current practices. Breastfeed Med. 2012;7:317-8. PMID: 22224508
5. Ingelman-Sundberg A. Early puerpereal breast engorgement. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1953;32:399-402. PMID: 13138066
6. Mangesi L, Dowswell T. Treatments for breast engorgement during lactation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;9:CD006946. PMID: 20824853
7. Luhman LA. The effect of intranasal oxytocin on lactation. Obstet Gynecol. 1963;21:713-7. PMID: 13931578
8. Ruis H, Rolland R, Doesburg W et al. Oxytocin enhances onset of lactation among mothers delivering prematurely. Br Med J. 1981;283:340-2. PMID: 6788318
9. Fewtrell MS, Loh K, Blake A et al. Randomised, double-blind trial of oxytocin nasal spray in mothers expressing breast milk for preterm infants. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2006; 91:F169-74. PMID: 16223754
10. Cowley KC. Psychogenic and pharmacologic induction of the let-down reflex can facilitate breastfeeding by tetraplegic women: a report of 3 cases. Arch Phys Med Rehabil . 2005;86:1261-4. PMID: 15954070
CAS Registry Number
- Pituitary Hormones, Posterior
LactMed Record Number
Information from the National Library of Medicine's LactMed Database.
Last Revision Date
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