The World Health Organisation has warned doctors against giving expectant mothers oxytocin infusion to speed up labour — a practice that has gained currency over the past 20 years.
Oxytocin is a synthetic hormone which stimulates the uterine smooth muscle to produce rhythmic contractions.
“The increasing medicalisation of normal childbirth processes are undermining a woman’s capability to give birth, and negatively impacting her birth experience,” said WHO assistant director-general for family, women, children and adolescents, Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela.
“If labour is progressing normally, and the woman and her baby are in good condition, they do not need to receive additional interventions.”
An estimated 140 million births take place every year worldwide, most of them without complications.
However, studies show a substantial proportion of healthy pregnant women undergo at least one clinical intervention during labour and child birth. They are also often subjected to needless and potentially harmful routine interventions.
The new WHO guideline includes 56 evidence-based recommendations on what care is needed throughout labour and immediately after for the woman and her baby.
These include having a companion of choice during labour and childbirth; ensuring respectful care and good communication between women and health providers; and maintaining privacy and confidentiality.
“Many women want a natural birth and prefer to rely on their bodies to give birth,” said WHO director in the department of reproductive health and research, Ian Askew.
“Even when a medical intervention is needed, the inclusion of women in making decisions about the care they receive is important to ensure that they meet their goal of a positive childbirth experience.”