Oxytocin is a drug commonly used to induce or speed up labour in pregnant women. It’s administered as an IV infusion to create uterine contractions to help deliver the baby.

According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices Canada (ISMP), it is a “valuable, time-tested drug” that, if used incorrectly, can cause harm to the patient.

“The oxytocin dose and response to treatment need to be carefully monitored. This means monitoring both the mom and baby,” ISMP Canada CEO Carolyn Hoffman told CTV News in an emailed statement.

She said oxytocin can cause contractions that are too strong and too long and if this happens it can result in decreased blood flow to the uterus, putting the mother and baby in danger.

When the fetus is deemed to be in distress during labour, an emergency C-section may be required.

The ISMP says intravenous oxytocin is on the list of “high-alert” medications, which have a “heightened risk” of causing significant harm if the drug is not administered properly.

Serious side-effects of improperly administered oxytocin can include rupture of the uterus, a very slow heart rate, or retinal hemorrhage in the baby.

Oxytocin is used around the world and it is on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines.