Professor Susan Wray, from the University of Liverpool, and a team of researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, gave bicarbonate of soda to 100 women in labour experiencing difficulties, as well as oxytocin.
Another 100 women were treated with just oxytocin. The results, published in the journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, found those who had bicarbonate of soda increased their chances of a vaginal delivery by 17%.
“The outcome was really amazing,” Wray told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. “We were able to significantly increase the number of women having a spontaneous vaginal delivery, avoiding the caesarean section.”
Despite the positive outcome, pregnant women shouldn’t start drinking bicarb without medical advice. The Royal College of Midwives said “more research will need to be done” to establish how effective it is before it becomes an evidence-based recommendation.
Wray said bicarbonate was a “safe and inexpensive way to treat a serious and common problem in labour”.
“We’re really keen now to replicate these results in more centres, including the UK,” she added.
Women are commonly given oxytocin during labour. NHS Choices states this may happen if your contractions aren’t coming often enough or aren’t strong enough, or if your baby is in an awkward position.
“If breaking your waters doesn’t work, your doctor or midwife may suggest using a drug called oxytocin (also known as syntocinon) to make your contractions stronger,” the NHS Choices website states. “This is given through a drip that goes into a vein, usually in your wrist or arm.”
Wray believes using bicarbonate of soda (given in drink form) is more effective than oxytocin as it “rectifies acidity around the womb”.
She also believes the treatment would be useful for women in developing countries.
Commenting on the results from the study, Mervi Jokinen, practice and standards development advisor at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said the research was “interesting”.
“It could be a simple and cheap intervention that could potentially have a significant and positive impact for women who are not progressing in labour, and to help avoid unnecessary caesarean sections,” she told HuffPost UK.
“However, it is a small study and more research will need to be done to establish how effective it is before it becomes an evidence-based recommendation.”