Peripartum exposure to synthetic oxytocin may increase the risk of postpartum depression or anxiety disorders. These are the findings of a new study published in the journal, Depression and Anxiety.

Researchers used data from a repository of patients who delivered a single live born infant at University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care (UMMHC) between 2005 and 2014. Subsequent health information was garnered from the Massachusetts Integrated Clinical Academic Research Database (MiCARD). 

Overall, 9,684 deliveries involved women exposed to peripartum synthetic oxytocin compared to 37,048 deliveries where women were not exposed to synthetic oxytocin. To identify new cases of depression or anxiety, individuals were classified as those who had a history of these conditions and those who had not. 

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The analysis showed that exposure to peripartum synthetic oxytocin increased the risk of postpartum depressive or anxiety disorder by 36% (RR: 1.36; 95% CI: 1.20–1.55) in women with a history of prepregnancy depressive or anxiety disorder. For those with no history,exposure to synthetic oxytocin increased the risk of postpartum depressive or anxiety disorder by 32% (RR: 1.32; 95% CI: 1.23–1.42).

The researchers highlighted how – despite being one of the most commonly used drugs in the U.S. – little research has been conducted to assess the effects of oxytocin on postpartum maternal mood or anxiety. The results from this study, say the authors, underline a need for, ‘more research on the interaction between oxytocin and maternal mood in a clinical context where its use is very common and expected to increase given recommendations for all women to receive it for postpartum hemorrhage prevention,’ (WHO, 2012).

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