Pitocin and Birth Injuries

Pitocin is a medication used to induce labor. If you have certain medical conditions or experience stalled labor, a doctor may offer it to you. While Pitocin can be beneficial, it also carries significant risks. Health care professionals must carefully monitor you and your baby for signs of distress. If your doctor used Pitocin to induce labor and you suffered harm from it, you may be entitled to compensation. The Birth Injury Center explains what to know about Pitocin and how to pursue a claim for damages from the drug.

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As pregnant women close in on their due dates, their medical teams may consider inducing labor for various reasons. One medication used to induce labor is Pitocin. It acts to stimulate uterine contractions, furthering the progression of labor. Pitocin consists of synthetic oxytocin. While the drug can speed your labor up, there are risks to taking the drug. Some potential delivery complications associated with the drug are uterine hyperstimulation, uterine rupture, and fetal distress.

The Birth Injury Center regularly assists clients in medical negligence cases involving Pitocin. If you or your baby suffer side effects from Pitocin, you may have legal options. Our attorneys offer you a free case review.

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What Is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a form of synthetic oxytocin. It’s commonly used to induce labor in pregnant women with certain complications, such as maternal diabetes or preeclampsia.

Oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions. The hypothalamus produces oxytocin naturally in the body. During childbirth, levels of oxytocin increase significantly. Pitocin can help increase the hormone’s levels, provoking the delivery process.

How Is Pitocin Used in Labor and Delivery?

Pitocin can aid the childbirth process in two ways.

Initiate or Enhance Uterine Contractions

Pregnancy complications, including preeclampsia, Rh problems, and maternal diabetes, can make it critical for women to deliver their babies quickly rather than waiting for their bodies’ natural processes to kick in. A doctor may prescribe Pitocin to expedite a vaginal birth in such cases.

Women who experience slow deliveries, in which contractions are mild and don’t strengthen as expected, may also benefit from Pitocin.

Stop Postpartum Bleeding

Women sometimes experience postpartum bleeding or hemorrhaging following childbirth. Pitocin can help stop bleeding by forcing contractions, which reduce blood flow to the uterus.

How Does Pitocin Work?

To induce labor using Pitocin, doctors administer the medication via injection. The injection site is typically a vein or muscle. The standard dose is 3 to 6 mL per hour. Additional amounts may be necessary if contractions don’t increase to the intended frequency.

Doctors should use the minimum amount of medication to minimize side effects and risks to you and your baby. Careful monitoring of uterine activity and fetal heart rate is critical.

Why Would a Doctor Use Pitocin To Induce Labor?

pregnant woman lying on the hospital bed

The FDA advises that doctors should only use Pitocin when medically necessary for the mother or baby. A few reasons that meet the criteria for using Pitocin include the following:

  • Medical issues, including preeclampsia or Rh issues
  • Premature rupture of amniotic membranes or tissues
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Stimulating stalled labor
  • Uterine inertia, in which labor slows significantly
  • Pregnancy extending past 41 weeks
  • Issues with the placenta
  • Uterine infection

Ultimately, doctors decide whether inducing labor is medically necessary. In some cases, they may recommend labor induction even if the baby will be born before the due date. They’ll assess the risks of continuing the pregnancy versus inducing labor early.

What Are the Risks of Using Pitocin in Labor?

While using Pitocin for labor induction may be medically beneficial in some cases, its use has significant risks.

Uterine Hyperstimulation

Uterine hyperstimulation occurs when a pregnant woman experiences more than five contractions every ten minutes, averaging over half an hour. Excess contractions decrease blood and oxygen flow to the fetus, resulting in birth asphyxia. If uterine hyperstimulation occurs, there is a higher risk of the baby experiencing infant brain damage.

Uterine Rupture

A uterine rupture occurs when the uterus tears. Uterine ruptures are medical emergencies that can result in significant blood loss. They can also harm the baby, causing the heart to slow down and decreasing oxygen flow. A slower heart rate and poor oxygen levels can lead to fetal brain damage, including hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.

Mothers who experience a uterine rupture may require an emergency hysterectomy.

Fetal Distress

Babies sometimes demonstrate signs of fetal distress following the administration of Pitocin. Heart rate can increase or decrease, and their movements may slow. Fetal distress indicates the baby has lower oxygen levels, which can lead to infant brain injuries.

What Are the Side Effects of Pitocin?

Pitocin’s most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and increased uterine contractions. Doctors will look for more serious Pitocin side effects, which can consist of the following:

  • Allergic reactions, such as face swelling, hives, or difficulty breathing
  • Increased or decreased heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion or weakness

There are potential side effects to the fetus, too. Fetal side effects can include:

  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Seizure
  • Jaundice
  • Vision problems
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle slackness

Women and their doctors should weigh the benefits and risks of Pitocin carefully before deciding to use it.

Does Pitocin Make Labor Worse?

Pitocin increases the speed of contractions, which may make your labor feel more painful. This often requires pain relief that may, in turn, slow down the natural progress of labor. Natural childbirth allows contractions to grow at a slower rate, so you may feel it’s easier than Pitocin-induced labor. However, some women welcome the chance to speed up labor, especially if they have medical complications or contractions are very slow.

Side effects from Pitocin can also increase maternal discomfort during the delivery process.

Does Pitocin Make Contractions More Painful?

Contractions may feel more agonizing if you take Pitocin. Since Pitocin stimulates contractions, you’ll likely experience delivery pain sooner than with natural childbirth.

However, increased contractions mean faster delivery of your baby. That’s important for women with uterine inertia or medical complications such as preeclampsia.

Does Pitocin Make You Dilate?

Pitocin does not soften the cervix or cause dilation. However, inducing labor with Pitocin may encourage dilation due to uterine contractions. Sometimes, doctors combine a uterine catheter balloon with Pitocin to accomplish both goals simultaneously: increased contractions and cervix dilation.

What Is the Difference Between Pitocin and Cervidil?

Doctors use both Pitocin and Cervidil to induce labor. However, they work in different ways.

Pitocin is made from synthetic oxytocin, a substance produced naturally in the body. When injected, Pitocin encourages uterine contractions, speeding up the delivery process.

Cervidil is made from synthetic prostaglandin, a hormonal-like substance that the body produces in its tissues. Cervidil helps to soften the cervix, encouraging labor to progress.

When deciding between Cervidil and Pitocin, doctors consider your medical condition and their objectives. Pitocin may be the optimal choice if you’re already dilated, but contractions are slow. However, Cervidil may be the better option if you require dilation.

What To Do if Pitocin Harmed You or Your Baby

While Pitocin can assist with pregnancy complications, it does carry significant risks. Sometimes, health care providers don’t explain the risks adequately, inducing patients to accept a drug they may not take otherwise. Other problems can arise if health care providers fail to sufficiently monitor patients after taking Pitocin.

You may be eligible for compensation if you or your baby suffered harm because of Pitocin. While money can’t fix you or your baby, it can offset your medical costs and get you through a trying time.

The experienced attorneys at the Birth Injury Center can evaluate your case and file a birth injury lawsuit. Contact us today to schedule a free case review so you don’t miss out on compensation for your or your child’s injuries.

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Written by:
Birth Injury Center Team

The Birth Injury Center aims to create informational web content and guides to help women and their families seeking support and guidance for birth injuries caused by medical negligence. All of the content published across The Birth Injury Center website has been thoroughly investigated and approved by medical expert Natalie Speer, RNC-OB, Attorney Ryan Mahoney, and Attorney Rick Meadows.