When I was pregnant I spent a lot of time wondering about labor and how it would go. Would my water break at work or at home? Would I go into labor naturally or would I need help getting things started. In the end, and like many people, I ended up needing an induction to start labor. My doctor recommended using Pitocin to induce contractions. I, naturally, had questions about introducing a medication into my body, and wondered what happens to your baby when you get Pitocin, too. If you're pregnant and staring labor and delivery in the face, I have a feeling you'll want to know the answer as well.
According to the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists (ACOG), oxytocin is a hormone that your body produces naturally during labor. Pitocin, on the other hand, is the brand name of synthetic oxytocin that is commonly used to induce and augment labor by causing your uterus to contract. According to the ACOG website, Pitocin labor contractions are not functionally different than regular labor contractions, however, because Pitocin is administered intravenously, and everyone responds to medication differently, it can cause contractions that are more intense or frequent than the contractions that would accompany a labor without it.
You may wonder if there are any risks to you or your baby during labor if Pitocin is, in fact, administered. According to ACOG, the main risk of Pitocin to your unborn baby is changes in their heart rate due to uterine tachysystole, a condition when the mother has more than six uterine contractions in a 10-minute period. This risk is higher if Pitocin is administered too quickly or in higher doses.
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 oxygen saturation. ACOG's practice guidelines recommend reducing these risks by closely monitoring you and your baby closely during Pitocin use, and decreasing the amount or timing of the drug as needed.
Another study found that when Pitocin was used during labor, babies were more likely to be admitted to the NICU or score lower on the "Apgar test," a measure of a newborn's health at birth. Michael S. Tsimis, MD, the author of the study, hopes that it will change how Pitocin is used, stating, “We don’t want to discourage the use of Pitocin, but simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use.”
If you have heard that Pitocin could have long-term effects on your baby, you should rest easy. While some studies showed a potential link between Pitocin induction and autism, a newer Harvard study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which looked at children in the same family, showed that induction of labor does not increase a baby's risk of being diagnosed with autism.
While birth plans are important and everyone deserves to experience childbirth in their own unique, empowering way, labor and delivery is unpredictable. The best you can do is stay informed, consult with your OB-GYN regularly, and make the choices that are beneficial to you and your baby.