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A substantive amendment to this systematic review was last made on 25 May 2001. Cochrane reviews are regularly checked and updated if necessary.

ABSTRACT

Background: Oxytocin is the commonest induction agent used worldwide. It has been used alone, in combination with amniotomy or following cervical ripening with other pharmacological or non-pharmacological methods. Prior to the introduction of prostaglandin agents oxytocin was used as a cervical ripening agent as well. In developed countries oxytocin alone is more commonly used in the presence of ruptured membranes whether spontaneous or artificial. In developing countries where the incidence of HIV is high, delaying amniotomy in labour reduces vertical transmission rates and hence the use of oxytocin with intact membranes warrants further investigation.

This review will address the use of oxytocin alone for induction of labour. Amniotomy alone or oxytocin with amniotomy for induction of labour has been reviewed elsewhere in the Cochrane Library. Trials which consider concomitant administration of oxytocin and amniotomy will not be considered. This is one of a series of reviews of methods of cervical ripening and labour induction using a standardised methodology.

Objectives: To determine the effects of oxytocin alone for third trimester cervical ripening or induction of labour in comparison with other methods of induction of labour or placebo/no treatment.

Search strategy: The Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group Trials Register, the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register and bibliographies of relevant papers. Last searched: May 2001.

Selection criteria: The criteria for inclusion included the following: (1) clinical trials comparing vaginal prostaglandins used for third trimester cervical ripening or labour induction with placebo/no treatment or other methods listed above it on a predefined list of labour induction methods; (2) random allocation to the treatment or control group; (3) adequate allocation concealment; (4) violations of allocated management not sufficient to materially affect conclusions; (5) clinically meaningful outcome measures reported; (6) data available for analysis according to the random allocation; (7) missing data insufficient to materially affect the conclusions.

Data collection and analysis: A strategy was developed to deal with the large volume and complexity of trial data relating to labour induction. This involved a two-stage method of data extraction. The initial data extraction was done centrally, and incorporated into a series of primary reviews arranged by methods of induction of labour, following a standardised methodology. The data are to be extracted from the primary reviews into a series of secondary reviews, arranged by category of woman.

Main results: In total, 110 trials were considered; 52 have been excluded and 58 included examining a total of 11,129 women.

Comparing oxytocin alone with expectant management: Oxytocin alone reduced the rate of unsuccessful vaginal delivery within 24 hours when compared with expectant management (8.3% versus 54%, relative risk (RR) 0.16, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.10,0.25) but the caesarean section rate was increased (10.4% versus 8.9%, RR 1.17, 95% CI 1.01,1.36). This increase in caesarean section rate was not apparent in the subgroup analyses. Women were less likely to be unsatisfied with induction rather than expectant management, in the one trial reporting this outcome (5.5% versus 13.7%, RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.33, 0.56).

Comparing oxytocin alone with vaginal prostaglandins: Oxytocin alone was associated with an increase in unsuccessful vaginal delivery within 24 hours (52% versus 28%, RR 1.85, 95% CI 1.41, 2.43), irrespective of membrane status, but there was no difference in caesarean section rates (11.4% versus 10%, RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.95, 1.33).

Comparing oxytocin alone with intracervical prostaglandins: Oxytocin alone was associated with an increase in unsuccessful vaginal delivery within 24 hours when compared with intracervical PGE2 (51% versus 35%, RR 1.49, 95% CI 1.12,1.99). For all women with an unfavourable cervix regardless of membrane status, the caesarean section rates were increased (19.0% versus 13.1%, RR 1.42, 95% CI 1.11, 1.82).

Reviewers' conclusions: Overall, comparison of oxytocin alone with either intravaginal or intracervical PGE2 reveals that the prostaglandin agents probably overall have more benefits than oxytocin alone. The amount of information relating to specific clinical subgroups is limited, especially with respect to women with intact membranes. Comparison of oxytocin alone to vaginal PGE2 in women with ruptured membranes reveals that both interventions are probably equally efficacious with each having some advantages and disadvantages over the others. With respect to current practice in women with ruptured membranes induction can be recommended by either method, and in women with intact membranes there is insufficient information to make firm recommendations.

Citation: Kelly AJ, Tan B. Intravenous oxytocin alone for cervical ripening and induction of labour (Cochrane Review). In: The Cochrane Library, 3, 2001. Oxford: Update Software.