Pitocin. If you've spent any time on the baby forums, the very word strikes fear into your heart. At birth class, I was told in no uncertain terms that Pitocin makes contractions more painful, leading to an epidural and the dreaded "cascade of interventions." If you believe the hype on the baby boards, this common labor and delivery drug is a birthing woman's worst enemy. But is it really? Turns out, what your OB-GYN wants you to know about Pitocin might surprise you, and will make the drug seem not so scary after all.
"How bad is Pitocin?" Fit Pregnancy asked, before reporting that many women find labor on Pitocin is harder than an unmedicated birth — a truism I've heard often. However, according to Megan Schmitt, MD, a Park Nicollet OB-GYN currently delivering babies at the Methodist Hospital Family Birth Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, the science just isn't there. Schmitt explains:
"Pitocin is oxytocin. And oxytocin is the hormone that our brains create to cause contractions in labor . . . It's the same thing — we just learned how to create it in a lab."
The question of whether Pitocin intensifies contractions rages like a hurricane across the pregnancy boards. Women warn each other away from the medication with threads claiming "Pitocin is the devil," and posts titled, "Induced nightmare. Awful birth." Here's the thing, though — Pitocin causes contractions, and for the majority of women, contractions are super painful. "So whether or not it's your brain that's creating contractions with oxytocin, or we're giving you Pitocin that's creating labor contractions, you're going to have painful labor contractions," Schmitt tells Romper.
How did Pitocin get such a bad rep? Doctors have begun to notice their patient's resistance to the drug, and it worries them. In 2015, Clinical Advisor floated the theory (in "Debunking the dangers of Pitocin") that Pitocin may be poorly administered in some cases. This in turn would lead to nightmarish labors, the tales of which quickly proliferate across the internet. Who wouldn't have reservations about a drug made out to be the creature from the black lagoon?
As an OB-GYN, Schmitt considers the drug a useful tool, and uses it only when necessary — if labor stalls, or to induce postdates. Whether oxytocin powers your labor, or you receive an injection of its synthetic twin, Schmitt maintains that "the level of pain does not differ." Furthermore, she sees no negative impact on the establishment of breastfeeding.
"Another thing to note is that every woman gets Pitocin after her baby is born, because it helps decrease the risk of bleeding or hemorrhaging. It helps get the placenta out in a timely fashion," Schmitt explains.
Yep, that's right. Even if you go into labor on your own and birth is a total breeze, you're still going to get Pitocin to help with the afterbirth.
Every woman experiences labor differently, and horror stories abound — not just about induction drugs, but every aspect of birth. If you know you're going to be induced with Pitocin, or if your doctor has mentioned the possibility of using it, my advice is to ignore the online hullabaloo as best you can. Pitocin is synthetic oxytocin, not the monster under the bed. Basically, your OB-GYN wants you to know that Pitocin is nothing to fear.