Here Are The Major Differences Between A Pitocin & Cervidil Induction

by Sarah Bunton

As with many things in life, despite your best efforts, your delivery plans may be thrown out the window and you'll just have to roll with it. Childbirth is similar in the way that your ideal birthing plan or course of action can get nixed because something isn't developing as it should. Often times, when a pregnant woman goes into labor for an extended period of time without progress, a medical physician might employ of a variety of methods used to induce delivery. So what is the difference between a Pitocin induction and a Cervidil induction?

At first, they might not seem that different, seeing as they're both medicinal options for jump starting the actual birthing process. But as it turns out, there is actually one specific way you can tell these two processes apart and they all have to do with the way they are administered, the reasons they are used, and the side effects from each. But before you can truly compare the two medical interventions, it helps to fully understand what expected progress of labor is and why an induction might be in order when things deviate from the standard course of childbirth.

First off, a pregnant woman's cervix — the area that connects the uterus to the vaginal — needs to be "ripe" in order for labor to properly begin. When this doesn't happen on its own, medical intervention may be necessary.

For instance, one method, "ripening the cervix, is a process that helps the cervix soften and thin out in preparation for labor," according to the official website for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). "Medications or devices may be used to soften the cervix so it will stretch, dilate for labor," it was further reported on ACOG. Once the cervix has been adequately ripened — whether by nature or medicine — contractions are expected to follow in the average course of labor.

Again, if this next step doesn't start on its own during a specific window of time, physicians will likely employ medical options to make contractions begin. Essentially, "the uterus surrounds the baby, and when the uterine muscles contract, that helps labor progress," OB-GYN Dr. Bert Putterman told Parents. Contractions need to happen after cervical ripening so that the tightening muscles can help move the baby into position for birth. These two necessary components — a "ripened" cervix and the consistent presence of contractions — must happen for labor and delivery to occur. When one or both of those developments are unable to begin naturally, and a vaginal delivery is still the preferred method, medical induction will commence.

This is where you can start to notices differences. If a pregnant woman needs to have her cervix medically ripened, their doctor might use a medication called Cervidil. "Cervidil is a vaginal insert that contains a type of medication called a prostaglandin," OB-GYN Dr. Ashley Roman told The Bump. "It’s typically used in women who need to have labor induced but whose cervix is closed or hasn’t 'ripened' yet," Roman further explained." So Cervidil is primarily used for inducing cervical ripening, not contractions, when it comes to labor and delivery.

Regardless of whether or not a medicine was used to induce cervical ripening, if contractions don't begin, doctors may use a medicine called Pitocin to induce contractions. " Pitocin, a brand name drug, is the synthetic version of oxytocin, a natural hormone that helps your uterus contract during labor," as Dr. Barak M. Rosenn, director of obstetrics and maternal-fetal medicine at Mount Sinai West in New York City told The Bump. So even though it is technically considered a drug, it's serving the same purpose that a naturally-occurring hormone would. Again, the difference here is in the medicine's purpose. Where Cervidil's purpose is to induce cervical ripening, Pitocin's purpose is to induce contractions once the cervix has ripened.

Another difference between Pitocin and Cervidil is the list of risks or side effects associated with them. For instance, Pitocin risks include fluid retention, uterine rupture, and more painful contraction — all of which occur with a fairly low frequency — as Rosenn and obstetrician Dr. Geeta Sharma expounded upon to The Bump. With Cervidil, "the most common side effect is uterine hyperstimulation, or exceptionally strong or frequent contractions, occurring in less than 5 percent of women in clinical studies," according to one article from The Bump. "Fewer than 1 percent experienced fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea, the second most common set of side effects, from Cervidil," the aforementioned article further noted.

The way in which the two medications are given to the pregnant women is another way these induction methods differ. According to the official website for the South Shore Medical Center, "Pitocin is added to IV fluids and given through your IV in slowly increasing doses to cause contractions." This means that the doctors are able to adjust how much Pitocin you're getting and can even shut it off altogether if need be. However, the way Cervidil is given is a, "member of your health care team inserts Cervidil — which comes in a thin gel packaged to release gradually over a 12 hour period — the night before they plan to start an intravenous infusion of Pitocin to start the uterus contracting," according to the previously mentioned article from The Bump. Since this requires insertion, dosage can't be controlled the same as Pitocin. But don't worry — Cervidil can be removed instantly via an attached string — it's like a tampon.

In the end, it's the purpose, potential risks or side effects, and actual process of administration that separate a Pitocin induction from a Cervidil induction, and depending on your situation, a doctor will use one or the other, or both to move your labor along.

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