Nearly 4 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and most were vaginal births. When women are in delivery, sometimes their labor slows down or stalls completely, and help is needed to increase contractions. Synthetic oxytocin, also known as Pitocin, is sometimes prescribed to induce labor and strengthen those contractions. Pitocin can act as a life-saving instrument, keeping both mother and child healthy and safe. However, some side effects of the drug Pitocin can be a cause for concern.
What Is Pitocin?
Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin—a hormone naturally released by the body’s pituitary gland that helps the uterus contract during labor. If these contractions are not progressing as expected, a doctor may administer Pitocin by injection, to strengthen labor contractions and also cause them to occur more frequently. Doctors and nurses may use Pitocin to:
- Induce labor in mothers who are post term
- Induce contractions
- Assist with dilation
- Control bleeding after delivery
The Risks of Pitocin
Maintaining healthy hormone balances during childbirth is a delicate process. While the body naturally releases oxytocin in waves, Pitocin is continuously administered into the pregnant mother intravenously. But while Pitocin strengthens and increases the frequency of contractions, this can pose risks to the fetus’s blood flow and flow of oxygen. This means doctors and nurses must monitor Pitocin levels with extreme care to avoid risks, including:
- Fetal heartbeat arrhythmias or slowing
- Neonatal jaundice
- Fetal brain or nervous damage
- Asphyxia (oxygen deprivation)
- Infant death
Additionally, Pitocin has side effects that can pose some risks to the health of the mother. This drug can cause the mother to experience:
- Allergic reactions, resulting in itching, hives, swelling, or breathing trouble
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Sudden and severe headaches
Monitoring Pitocin and Oxytocin Levels
To keep a mother and child safe from potential risks, it’s imperative that doctors and nurses work together to closely monitor the following while administering Pitocin:
- Fetal heartrate: A full-term fetus will usually maintain a heartrate between 110 and 160 beats per minute (BPM). If the heart rate slows below 110 BPM, a doctor will decide if the change is cause for serious concern.
- Intrauterine pressure: During childbirth, health care professionals will insert an intrauterine pressure catheter (IUPC) into the amniotic space to monitor contraction strength, length, and frequency. Any abnormalities can be addressed by an experienced doctor or nurse.
We Can Help
If you or your baby suffered injuries after being given Pitocin, you may have questions. At the Holton Law Firm, we can help you find answers and explain your options for recovering compensation. To get started on your case, request a copy of our free guide, Answers to Parents’ Questions About Birth Injuries.