Beyond labor: the role of natural and synthetic oxytocin in the transition to motherhood

J Midwifery Womens Health. Jan-Feb 2014;59(1):35-42: quiz 108. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12101. Epub 2014 Jan 28.


Emerging research raises questions that synthetic oxytocin during childbirth may alter the endogenous oxytocin system and influence maternal stress, mood, and behavior. Endogenous oxytocin is a key component in the transition to motherhood, affecting molecular pathways that buffer stress reactivity, support positive mood, and regulate healthy mothering behaviors (including lactation). Synthetic oxytocin is widely used throughout labor and postpartum care in modern birth. Yet research on the implications beyond labor of maternal exposure to perinatal synthetic oxytocin is rare. In this article, we review oxytocin-related biologic pathways and behaviors associated with the transition to motherhood and evidence supporting the need for further research on potential effects of intrapartum oxytocin beyond labor. We include a primer on oxytocin at the molecular level.

Keywords: Pitocin; birth; breastfeeding; labor; lactation; mood; mothering; oxytocin; postpartum depression; stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect* / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Lactation / drug effects
  • Maternal Behavior* / drug effects
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / pharmacology
  • Postnatal Care*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy / metabolism*
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism*


  • Oxytocin