Pitocin Induction: What You Need to Know

Pitocin Induction

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Pitocin Induction

Last updated Dec. 28, 2017.

Labor is hard, plain and simple. It’s exhausting. It’s painful. Even with an epidural or other pain management, it just plain wears you out. Worse, it doesn’t always work — that’s right, sometimes it’s delivery day and your body just can’t or won’t push the baby out. That’s where Pitocin comes in. Pitocin is a drug used to induce labor and make your contractions strong enough to push that new baby out into the world.

So, what’s the deal with Pitocin induction? Is it safe?

What is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, a naturally occurring substance found in your body that causes your uterus to contract. If your body isn’t producing enough oxytocin on its own, Pitocin can give it the boost it needs to get the job done.

Pitocin is administered through an IV. It will start with very small doses and your doctor will slowly increase the dose until you’re in a strong, regular pattern of contractions.

Why induce labor?

It’s natural to think that labor will just sort of happen. In many cases, it does. Our bodies frequently know what to do and do it on their own, without much (or any) input from our conscious selves. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, our natural childbirth processes can get out of sync and labor doesn’t progress normally. That can stress the baby and cause health problems, so your doctor may want to get the ball rolling a little faster.

Your doctor may want to induce labor if:

—You’re 2 weeks past your due date and haven’t started labor. The baby doesn’t stop growing just because you hit your due date, and the bigger the baby, the harder the delivery. Large babies and their mothers face health risks during labor and the labor is more likely to be prolonged and difficult, increasing the likelihood of complications like fetal distress or the baby getting stuck in the birth canal. That can lead to oxygen deprivation and brain damage. Past-due babies are also at a higher risk for meconium aspiration syndrome.

—Your water has broken but you’re not having contractions. The amniotic fluid in your womb cushions your little one and provides protection from infections. Once your water breaks, the risk of infection traveling to your womb increases greatly. In general, you can wait around 24 hours after the break to see if you start labor. If not, your doctor will likely recommend inducing.

—Your uterus is infected. That infection can be transmitted to the baby, so your doctor may want to induce to get the baby out as quickly as possible.

—Your labor stalls. It happens. Sometimes your body just won’t dilate the last centimeter or two. Sometimes you’ve been in labor for a day already and your muscles are just tired. Labor is stressful for you and the baby, so your doctor may recommend using Pitocin to give your muscles a boost to get you through delivery and alleviate your little one’s stress.

—Certain other health problems. If your little one isn’t developing as expected or if there are problems with the placenta but a vaginal birth is still an option, your doctor may recommend inducing labor to avoid the need for a C-section.

Pitocin Side Effects

In general, Pitocin is believed to be very safe and effective. However, like any drug, there are potential side effects. Most commonly reported are nausea and vomiting. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some women find labor more painful with Pitocin than without it — more women use epidurals when they take Pitocin than otherwise, which suggests that that may be true.

There are some questions about the drug’s safety, however. A study released in 2013 found that newborns delivered with the help of Pitocin spent an average of 24 hours longer in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) and had lower Apgar scores than their counterparts who were delivered without the help of the drug. This study prompted the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to caution doctors to use a more careful and systematic approach in their decision to induce labor.

There is speculation that inducing labor can lead to more children being born prematurely as doctors believe they’re inducing past-due babies but have the dates wrong (determining the date of conception is not an exact science).

Finally, the contractions caused by Pitocin can be extremely powerful — powerful enough to stress the baby, which can cause serious health problems. Your medical care team should be carefully monitoring the baby’s heart rate and other vitals for signs of distress. If your little one gets stressed, your medical care team will likely recommend a C-section to get the baby out and relieve the stress. Sometimes, unfortunately, that doesn’t happen, often because the signs of distress aren’t adequately communicated to the whole team. When that happens, your little one may suffer serious birth injuries. That gives rise to a potential lawsuit for medical malpractice.

If your child was injured during a Pitocin-induced labor, please contact the Safe Birth Project for more information about your rights and options.

Is Pitocin right for me?

When you’re in the heat of labor and your doctor tells you it’s time to induce, you may not feel like you can or should question that decision. However, it’s your baby and your delivery and you have the right to ask your doctor some questions about why Pitocin may be necessary or whether it might be possible to wait a while longer to see if labor progresses naturally.

Pitocin is extremely common — about one-quarter of babies in the U.S. are delivered with its help. The question is whether it’s right for you. When you’re working on your birth plan, talk to your doctors about their policies on using Pitocin to induce labor. When labor actually arrives (or doesn’t, as the case may be), remember that you have the right to ask questions and make sure you understand your doctor’s reasoning before you induce. There are certain medical emergencies — preeclampsia, placental abruption, or chorioamnionitis, for example, which do require an expedited delivery. If you’re simply past your expected due date, however, you may talk to your doctor and decide that you’d rather wait and see what happens.

Some women may also choose to voluntarily induce once they reach their expected due date, for any number of reasons. That’s also something you’ll simply need to talk over with your doctor to make sure you understand the pros and cons.

Did your doctor induce labor with Pitocin? Tell us about your experience in the comments!


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5 replies
  1. Joana Vieira
    Joana Vieira says:

    My water broke at home at 1 am with meconium and no contractions. I got to the hospital at 2 am and was 0 dilated. Only at 6 am was my cervix thinning out gearing up for labor. Still no contractions. Ten hours after my water broke, Dr decided to start Pitocin as I was still 0 dilated. Fourteen hours after my water broke I was still only 1 cm dilated but still felt no contractions although the monitor showed some. I started to feel light contractions 5 hours after starting Pitocin. The nurses kept raising my Pitocin every 30 min. Seven hours after starting Pitocin, and what felt like all of a sudden, my contractions went from 10 to 100 every minute! So so painful and so close together that I couldn´t even catch my breath. In my head I thought I was going into active labor but didn´t understand how since just 3 hours ago I was still only 1 cm dilated…The contractions were so strong they were making me throw up and gag even though I had nothing in my stomach. I could not lie still. Nurse sticks her hand to check my dilation and says she can feel baby´s head and that I am 8 cm dilated! She then asks if I feel the urge to push, which I did not, and tells me to start pushing. The pushing made my contractions worse and my body was shaking uncontrollably and just not handling this Pitocin thing well at all. I was literally on the verge of passing out. My husband was very traumatized by this scene that he doesn´t even want any more children…So for 15 minutes this nurse has me pushing saying she can feel baby´s head. Until finally I just couldn´t anymore. My body was just beyond exhaustion and pain and thirst and I was in and out of consciousness. The Dr finally comes in and takes a look and tells me she recommends an Epidural because I am still on 3 cm dilated…The story keeps going but in conclusion, 27 hours after my water broke and going through all this and having my cervix swollen and almost rupture because of a nurse´s mistake, I ended up having a c-section and my baby seems to be fine a healthy. He´s just turned 1. After the pushing scene, the Pitocin was stopped to give my body some rest and I got an Epidural. Three hours later the Pitocin was restarted. Twenty-six hours after my water broke, and 16 hours after starting Pitocin, I was still only 4 cm dilated with Pitocin. There should have been a much better explanation to me about the risks and side effects of Pitocin as well as a much better monitoring of my contractions with the dosage of Pitocin so as to better control the amount being given at once. Also, had it been explained to me better, I would have taken the epidural right from the start and not waited. It was just a bad experience all around and I know labor is not a walk in the park but I am sure my experience was just worse than it needed to be. All due to poor medical attention and failed communication.

  2. Amber Krosel
    Amber Krosel says:

    Wow, that sounds incredibly difficult, but we at Safe Birth Project are glad you and baby are safe! Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. gina Podolsky
    gina Podolsky says:

    I delivered my son 1/18/15 and have been trying to get answers from the hospital for 2 years as to why i was induced unnecessarily. I was never notified, nor did I ever consent to be induced. I didn’t even know I was given the drug Pitocin until I reviewed the medical records and saw it. There was no need for me to be induced-the labor was progressing normally. My medical records reflect that. Pitocin is also medically documented to cause Bradycardia-which may explain why my son had an episode shortly after birth. Other than contacting the joint commission, what other options do I have for recourse? They refused to give me a valid reason for giving me Pitocin and taking any responsibility. From talking to other mothers who delivered there that also were given Pitocin for no reason, I believe they are using the drug unethically (possibly illegally) as routine (and possibly for financial reasons). I’ve contacted several lawyers, but because my son luckily doesn’t show signs of severe damage -there is no financial gain for the attorneys to take the case. I don’t want $, but since the attorneys work on commission, they want only the financial paying cases. They only want cases where children are injured so they can collect $. I just want them to stop this horrible practice of unnecessary inductions.

  4. R Wilson
    R Wilson says:

    I had my son May 23rd, 2016. The days leading up to his arrival I had felt very off and just very tired. I thought I had kept wetting myself with small gushes here and there without even having any feeling of having to urinate which I thought was strange. The third day was my routine check up. I told my doctor about the gushes of what i thought was urine so she did a swab test to check for amniotic fluid. Turns out that my sac had a pin size hole in it and was in fact gushing amniotic fluid in very small amounts for two days. She then checked my cervix and I was dilated to a four. This was at our local clinic that the hospital owned and it was another 40 minute drive to the hospital where I would deliver (we live way out in the country). My doctor let me know we were going to have this baby today and she was leaving the office and we left and met her at the hospital. Upon arrival after forty minutes I’d gone to a 7 and the quit dilating for about an hour. I wasn’t having any contractions or even any discomfort. They gave me the Pitocin at 8 pm (a very small amount). 7-10 minutes later my contractions were so strong I didn’t have a break between peaks it was honestly the worst pain I could’ve imagined. I then asked for my epidural at 8:45. While getting my epidural I felt the extreme urge to push and told the anesthesiologist he had to stop because I felt like I was sitting on baby’s head. Instead of removing the catheter he rushed the medication into me. I never even felt the relief from the epidural until after the birth of my son. As soon as he backed away I laid on my pack and pushed for one minute and forty seconds and we welcomed my second child, my son. I wouldn’t say i had a terrible experience but I will say it was a very fast labor lol. Could be that it was my second delivery as well. My first labor and delivery with my daughter who is 7 now was also an induction. It was a pretty easy going labor though just Long and slow progressing as I went in at 6 am and had my daughter at 9 pm that evening. Which is also average for a first time labor and delivery!

  5. Pam Jackson
    Pam Jackson says:

    Ptocin literally cooked my bottom and made me where I couldn’t feed or bathe myself. The labor pains weren’t bad at all but I was totally disabled until after my c section

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