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Common Drug Can Cause Brain Injuries By Speeding Contractions

Last week we discussed how medical staff sometimes rely on a drug to delay contractions-despite concerns regarding unknown side effects and a lack of clear benefits. This week, the sad story of a very different birthing injury is in the news. A mother alleges that her doctor's aggressive use of another drug to speed up contractions caused her infant to suffer oxygen starvation.

Oxygen deprivation (or "hypoxia") can lead to long-lasting and debilitating infant brain injuries.

A UK mother claims that her son has permanent brain injuries precisely because he suffered hypoxia during a prolonged birth. The doctor administered larger and larger doses of a common drug that helps speed up deliveries. The drug, known as Syntocinon, is a synthetic version of a natural hormone called oxytocin. It directly affects a mother's uterus, accelerating contractions.

Hospitals administer oxytocin in many first-time deliveries-some estimates say that 30 percent of first-time mothers receive the drug to help them deliver faster. Second and third deliveries also sometimes involve oxytocin. Doctors use oxytocin in an estimated 130,000 deliveries every year.

This mother says that her doctor kept increasing her oxytocin dosage. Her contractions became so frequent that the infant did not have enough time to recover in between, leading to oxygen starvation. Now seven years old, the woman's son is severely brain damaged and will require constant care for the rest of her life.

Notably, oxytocin does have a valuable place in delivery wards. When doctors use it appropriately, it can be an important tool to help mothers deliver safely. This case only suggests that it is dangerous when administered in unnecessarily high doses. It is also unclear whether any scientific research has confirmed these accusations.

The case is another example of how careful medical staff must be to administer the right drugs, at the right time, and in the right dosage. Deviations from proper treatment can have catastrophic and lifelong consequences for mothers and infants.

Source: Daily Mail, "How drug used to speed up births can starve a baby of oxygen," Gaby Koppel, Oct. 15, 2012

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