Hormone injection would save mothers’ lives in childbirth – Swedish study

Some 600,000 women die in childbirth each year, 99 percent of them in countries south of the Sahara, but many of those deaths could be prevented with a hormone injection, according to a new Swedish study.

The most common cause of death for mothers in childbirth is heavy blood loss occurring between the birth of the child and the placenta’s discharge.

According to the study, conducted in Angola where maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world, an injection of the hormone oxytocin, which stimulates uterine contraction during birth, can help reduce postpartum bleeding by almost 50 percent.

“Reducing bleeding is particularly important in a poor country where many women have low blood levels even before the delivery,” said Roland Strand, a gynecologist who conducted the study as part of his doctoral thesis at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

He said that a three-pronged approach of an oxytocin injection, together with rapid cutting of the umbilical cord and active removal of the placenta – called Active Management of the Third Stage of Labour (AMTL) – greatly increased women’s chances of survival during childbirth.

Strand studied postpartum blood loss in 782 women whose birthing process followed a natural progression and 814 women who delivered their children under the AMTL method.

AMTL reduced postpartum blood loss by almost 50 percent, and by 80 percent in women with severe blood loss exceeding one litre.

In addition, “around two-thirds of uterine ruptures were judged to be avoidable at the hospital level,” Strand said.

The AMTL method is already widely recommended in many industrialized countries.

Strand noted that in the Angola study, the oxytocin was provided in special one-time package consisting of a disposable needle and the hormone.

“This is very important. The needle can’t be reused and therefore you don’t risk spreading diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which is a major problem in poor countries because of the lack of hygiene surrounding needles,” Strand said.