Oxytocin for labour and caesarean delivery: implications for the anaesthesiologist

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2011 Jun;24(3):255-61. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e328345331c.


Purpose of review: The implications of the obstetric use of oxytocin for obstetric anaesthesia practice are summarised. The review focuses on recent research on the uterotonic effects of oxytocin for prophylaxis and management of uterine atony during caesarean delivery.

Recent findings: Oxytocin remains the first-line agent in the prevention and management of uterine atony. In-vitro and in-vivo studies show that prior exposure to oxytocin induces uterine muscle oxytocin receptor desensitization. This may influence oxytocin dosing for adequate uterine tone following delivery. Oxytocin has important cardiovascular side-effects (hypotension, tachycardia and myocardial ischaemia). Recent studies suggest that the effective dose of oxytocin for prophylaxis against uterine atony during caesarean delivery is significantly lower than the 5-10 IU historically used by anaesthesiologists. Slow administration of small bolus doses of oxytocin minimises maternal haemodynamic disturbance. Continuous oxytocin infusions are recommended for maintaining uterine tone after bolus administration, although ideal infusion rates are still to be established. The efficacy of the long-acting oxytocin analogue carbetocin requires further investigation. Recommendations are presented for oxytocin dosing during caesarean delivery.

Summary: Oxytocin remains the first-line uterotonic after vaginal and caesarean delivery. Recent research elucidates the therapeutic range of oxytocin during caesarean delivery, as well as receptor desensitization. Evidenced-based protocols for the prevention and treatment of uterine atony during caesarean delivery are recommended.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anesthesia*
  • Cesarean Section / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Oxytocics / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocics / adverse effects
  • Oxytocics / pharmacology
  • Oxytocics / therapeutic use*
  • Oxytocin / administration & dosage
  • Oxytocin / adverse effects
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Oxytocin / therapeutic use*
  • Postpartum Hemorrhage / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Receptors, Oxytocin / drug effects
  • Uterine Contraction / drug effects


  • Oxytocics
  • Receptors, Oxytocin
  • Oxytocin