Sometimes, labor doesn't happen all that quickly — or at the right time — and your healthcare provider decides it's medically necessary to speed things along with a drug like Pitocin. But while you get the gist of how Pitocin works in your body, what else does it affect? What happens to your brain when you get Pitocin?
Pitocin is the synthetic form of the peptide made by the hypothalamus-pituitary complex and naturally occurs in all mammals. It is also commonly known as "the love hormone." It's responsible for all sorts of fun stuff like the let down of milk during breastfeeding, the happy feelings surrounding a female climax, male ejaculation, bonding with your baby, and, of course, it's the hormone that triggers labor, noted The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research. Except that last part isn't always "happy," as I can tell you — labor is not really a day at the orgasm factory — but I welcomed it after 38.5 weeks of unending nausea.
Pitocin (also known as Pit) is synthesized using a chemical reactive and a chain of nine amino acids to replicate the natural pituitary function, according to Chemical & Engineering News. While endogenous (made inside the body) oxytocin and its synthetic counterpart exogenous (introduced from outside the body) oxytocin are neurobiological and a product mimicking or directly from the brain, it's primary function is to meet up with oxytocin receptors all over the body to stimulate other bodily mechanisms to work.
The rush of the hormone leaving the brain and zinging through you is the reason for the euphoria many feel with oxytocin, Psychology Today noted. Your body triggers your brain, and that sets off this rush of chemicals into your body, making you feel great. But what if it's coming from outside your body? What happens to your brain when you get Pitocin?
It's actually a hot topic. You see, a lot of the medical literature out there states that exogenous oxytocin is simply too big and too reliant on water to cross through the tiny pathways of the maternal blood brain barrier, suggested New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. But recent scholarship is looking at whether or not this assumption is refutable, citing concerns over whether or not Pitocin/exogenous oxytocin interrupts the normal functions of endogenous oxytocin in the postpartum period, such as maternal-infant bonding, breastfeeding, and maternal psychological state.
In theory, and according to most standing literature, Pitocin shouldn't affect the brain of the mother, instead, it binds to oxytocin receptors directly and encourages activity — labor — to begin. While the studies concerned with the potential negative effects of Pitocin look damning at the surface, remember that these studies really only began in 2011, and so far, the data gathered is pointing to a correlational response to maternal maladjustment than proof of a clinical causation. It's also important to note that having this studied, scary though it may be, is a good thing. The more evidence researchers have, the better judgements healthcare providers can make.
When it comes to your labor and childbirth, it's going to have to be a discussion between you and your provider about the use of Pitocin. They can walk you through it and the two of you can determine the risks and benefits for you and your baby.