When I found out I needed to be induced in order to deliver my second child safely, my midwife recommended the use of Pitocin. Naturally, I worried about how it would go and what would happen during the process. Plus, there are things that shouldn't happen when you get Pitocin that are scary to even contemplate. Still, knowing the risks and the red flags is important, and in the end I'm glad I was not only informed but part of the decision making process that enabled me to have my child safely.
According to the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists (ACOG), Pitocin is a the synthetic version of oxytocin — a hormone your body produces during labor. The same site notes that Pitocin is commonly used to induce and augment (or help along) labor by causing your uterus to contract. Pitocin labor contractions are not functionally different than regular labor contractions, either. While Pitocin is generally considered safe to use during labor, there are things your doctor or midwife will look for if it's administered during labor.
Because Pitocin is administered intravenously, and everyone responds to the medication differently, if you receive the drug during labor your doctor or midwife will likely use electronic monitoring to track your blood pressure, your contractions, and your baby's heart rate. According to ACOG, Pitocin can cause contractions that are more intense or more frequent than the contractions you would have had without it, which can be extremely painful. According to one study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it can also cause your baby's heart rate to drop. This is why your doctor or midwife will absolutely monitor your health and your baby's health when giving you Pitocin during labor. Cochrane Reviews of induction and augmentation of labor with Pitocin also show that there are few risks of receiving the drug, aside from an increased likelihood of needing epidural pain medication.
But because Pitocin, like any other medication, does have risks, your doctor or midwife will monitor you closely to make sure the following things do not happen:
Contractions That Are Too Intense For You To Handle
According to ACOG, one risk of labor induction with Pitocin is having contractions that are too much for a laboring mom-to-be to handle. According to a Cochrane Review of nine studies of Pitocin as a method of inducing labor, high-dose regimes of the drug can cause uterine hyperstimulation — or contractions that are intense and close together — which can be painful for you and dangerous for your baby.
As a result, ACOG practice guidelines suggest starting with a low-dose regime of the drug and treating intense contractions by lowering the dose of Pitocin used to induce labor, as needed.
Changes In Your Baby's Heart Rate
According to one study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, uterine hyperstimulation from Pitocin can result in a drop in your baby's heart rate and reduced their oxygen saturation. ACOG's practice guidelines for induction of labor recommend that medical providers reduce these risks by closely monitoring you and your baby during Pitocin use, as well as decreasing the amount or timing of the drug as needed.
Pressure To Have Labor Interventions
Another option, if your baby is doing well with Pitocin, is recommending pain management strategies for a laboring person, including epidural or IV pain medication, as well as non-medicinal approaches like movement or massage. ACOG recommends that labor pain management strategies like epidural be available to any laboring person who wants them, but that their personal wishes be honored whenever possible.
If you receive Pitocin it should help things along and not slow your labor down. A Cochrane Review of eight studies, including 1,338 laboring people who received Pitocin to help augment labor, showed that receiving the medication was not associated with an adverse effects and shortened labor by about two hours.
According to a Cochrane Review of 61 studies including over 12,000 women, induction with Pitocin was more effective in moving things along than waiting for women to go into labor on their own. In fact, more women who received Pitocin had their babies within 24 hours when compared to those who didn't.
Some people who receive Pitocin still end up having a C-section, though. But contrary to popular belief, research published by the Canadian Medical Association actually showed that being induced lowers your risk of C-section and a NICU stay for your baby.