Pitocin and Birth Injuries
Pitocin is a medication that mimics a hormone known as oxytocin. This hormone is important in the process of labor and delivery of a baby.
What is Pitocin?
Pitocin is a synthetic version of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin has a variety of effects within the body, including stimulating contractions of the uterus. During a normal labor, levels of oxytocin increase dramatically. It’s believed that this is what initiates the process of labor.
How is Pitocin used in labor and delivery?
Pitocin may be used to induce labor in women who have not yet started the process. In some cases, this is considered medically necessary, because it would be dangerous to the mother or the baby for the pregnancy to continue any longer. In other cases, induction of labor is performed for other reasons, such as convenience.
In some cases, labor may start naturally, but then become stalled or progress very slowly. In cases like these, Pitocin is sometimes used to speed up the process of labor and delivery.
Pitocin is sometimes also used after delivery of the baby, if the mother is experiencing severe bleeding. The strong contractions induced by Pitocin reduce blood flow to the uterus, which helps to control the bleeding.
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Pitocin is given through an IV. Levels of the medication can be adjusted up and down fairly easily, because it stays in the body for only a short time. Labor and delivery professionals should closely monitor a woman on Pitocin and ensure that she is receiving the appropriate levels of the medication, adjusting as necessary.
In order for a baby to be successfully delivered vaginally, the cervix needs to stretch enough to allow the baby to pass through. This requires that the tissue of the cervix to become softer and more pliable, a process known as “cervical ripening.” If this process has not occurred naturally before Pitocin is given, then Pitocin alone may not lead to a successful vaginal delivery. A medication called Cytotec is sometimes used along with Pitocin, to soften the cervix and increase the chances of a successful induction.
Why might labor induction with Pitocin be performed?
There are a few different reasons that induction of labor may be medically necessary, including:
- If the mother has preeclampsia (a condition of high blood pressure and damage to her organs).
- If it would be dangerous for the mother or the baby for the pregnancy to continue any longer
due to a serious medical issue, such as a heart, lung, kidney, or liver problem.
- When the pregnancy has gone more than one to two weeks past the estimated date of
delivery, or “due date.” This is known as a postterm pregnancy.
- If there’s an infection inside of the uterus.
- If the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus. This is known as a placental abruption.
- If the baby is growing too slowly or showing other signs of distress.
- If the membranes have ruptured (the mother’s water has broken), but uterine contractions have
not started on their own within 24 to 72 hours.
Besides cases of medically necessary induction, there are also cases where the mother chooses to be induced, for her own reasons. This is known as an elective induction.
Besides its use to induce labor when it hasn’t started yet, the use of Pitocin to speed up a labor that’s taking a long time is also common. However, research has actually not found a medical justification for doing this; it doesn’t reduce the rates of Cesarean delivery or other birth interventions, and doesn’t change the outcomes of labor and delivery for the mother or baby. This intervention serves only to make labor shorter by an average of two hours. Unfortunately, some doctors use Pitocin to speed up labor for their own convenience; they’re often busy, and they may want a pregnant woman to give birth as quickly as possible so that they can move on to other things. This is not an appropriate medical use of Pitocin.
In women whose cervix is not ripe when labor induction is started, there’s a significant chance that labor induction will not be successful and a Cesarean delivery will be needed. Studies have shown Cesarean rates of more than 32% in women whose cervix is not ready for delivery, even when Pitocin is used alongside a medical intervention to help open the cervix (such as Cytotec). This rate is more than four times greater than that experienced by women whose cervix has already begun the process of softening when the induction is started. It’s important that women be informed about this fact before they decide whether or not to proceed with an induction, particularly an elective induction.
What are the risks of using Pitocin in labor?
Pitocin is widely used in the field of obstetrics. In most cases, it’s a safe medication, but it’s certainly not without risks. Some of the serious risks created by Pitocin include:
- Uterine hyperstimulation, in which the contractions of the uterus are too strong
and/or too close together. This can interfere with blood flow and deprive the baby
of oxygen, which can lead to serious and lifelong health complications.
- Uterine rupture, in which the uterus becomes torn. This can lead to severe
bleeding, which may require a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) to save the
- Fetal distress. This may lead to a condition called meconium staining, in which the
baby passes stool while still in the womb. Meconium can enter the lungs and
cause respiratory issues in the baby.
These complications can cause lifelong health issues, or even death of the mother and/or the baby.
These severe complications are rare, but it’s important for the medical team to be aware of them and to manage the patient carefully. The risks of Pitocin can be greatly decreased by maintaining appropriate medical supervision throughout the process. If the health of both mother and baby are closely monitored throughout the process of labor and delivery, the chances that one or both of them will suffer from severe complications are significantly lessened.
However, when medical supervision is not adequate, then there may be severe health consequences for the mother and/or the baby. Pitocin is not a medication that a provider can simply “set and forget.” Rather, it requires active monitoring throughout the process in order to use it safely.
The dosing of Pitocin is very important. When a mother receives too much Pitocin, there’s a greater risk that the uterine contractions will be too strong and/or too close together, which can be dangerous for both mother and baby. Giving higher doses of Pitocin in an attempt to speed up labor can create serious medical problems; it’s important for providers to understand the risks.
What should you do if you or your baby have been harmed by Pitocin?
Medical professionals have a duty to care for their patients properly. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. In a busy labor and delivery unit, a woman in labor may not be sufficiently monitored to detect any problems that arise with Pitocin until it’s too late. She and/or her baby may suffer severe harm as a result.
We believe in seeking justice for mothers and babies who have been harmed by medical negligence in the birthing process. If you were given Pitocin as part of your labor, and you suffered from harm that you believe may have resulted from medical negligence, then you should consider contacting an attorney to discuss your case. You might be able to receive compensation, which can help with the significant lifelong medical costs that can result from a Pitocin-induced injury.
Because of the statute of limitations, you have a limited amount of time after an injury in which to file a claim. This is why it’s important not to delay. If you wait too long, then you might lose your opportunity to seek justice.