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If misused, the labor-inducing drug Pitocin can cause overly-strong contractions that can deprive a baby of oxygen. This can lead to brain damage and cerebral palsy. It’s important to understand the risks associated with Pitocin and what to do if you think you or your baby were harmed.
What Is Pitocin?
According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Pitocin is synthetic oxytocin that comes in a “sterile, clear, colorless aqueous solution.” Pitocin is used to either strengthen contractions or to induce contractions during the labor and childbirth process.
Pitocin is administered intravenously only by an experienced healthcare provider, “typically with adequate medical supervision in a hospital,” the FDA reports.
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The drug is administered when medically necessary and when labor induction is in the best interest of both the mother and baby. For example, it could be necessary to induce labor during the late third trimester if the mother has maternal diabetes, preeclampsia, or failure to progress.
Other reasons to induce labor with Pitocin are when the membranes are prematurely ruptured or if Rh compatibility problems exist.
Problems with Pitocin
The FDA issued a “black box” warning for Pitocin in connection with the risks associated with its use. A black box warning means that attention has been called to a drug with “serious or life-threatening risks.”
The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (AJOG) suggests that Pitocin should be used in small doses while fetal monitoring is utilized correctly. Contractions should also be monitored carefully, and once the contractions are considered adequate, the healthcare provider should not discontinue Pitocin.
FDA reports that any patient given Pitocin use should be “under continuous observation by trained personnel who have a thorough knowledge of the drug and are qualified to identify complications.”
If Pitocin is not used correctly, it can lead to potentially life-changing consequences.
For instance, if a healthcare provider administers too much of the drug and continues to administer it over a prolonged period of time, it could result in:
- Infant brain damage, which could lead to cerebral palsy
- Uterine rupture
- Maternal stroke
- Maternal death
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Decreased fetal heart rate and reduced blood pressure
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Increase in intracranial pressure
Keep in mind that Pitocin doesn’t always cause medical issues, and many mothers go on to deliver healthy babies. However, the outcome can be devastating for babies and mothers who are given too much Pitocin for too long.
When contractions are too strong and come on too fast, the baby will have a hard time maintaining heart rate. If the excessive contractions continue and become too severe, the infant is at risk of developing low oxygen levels, turning into birth asphyxia and leading to cerebral palsy.
Each Mother Responds Differently to Pitocin
Doctors must work carefully with each patient to ensure the correct dosage of Pitocin is given, as one mother may not respond the same way as the next mother.
Given the high risks of injuries associated with Pitocin use, AJOG suggests that a doctor who can perform a C-section be readily available. Like the FDA, the organization also suggests that medical professionals who are trained to understand the signs of medical distress due to Pitocin be readily available to watch for signs of trouble.
As clinicians, our focus needs to shift to this response factor rather than focusing only on the infusion pump setting or drug concentration,” AJOG reports. “We must agree to certain management standards and utilize specific guidelines as part of our routine in the delivery of obstetric care.”
If you have questions about Pitocin, talk to your doctor before childbirth about labor interventions.
If you’ve given birth already and you think Pitocin may have harmed you or your child, you may have reason to file a medical malpractice suit against the responsible.
- Pitocin®(Oxytocin Injection, USP) Synthetic. (n.d.). Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
Retrieved from: https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/018261s031lbl.pdf
- A guide to drug safety terms at FDA. (n.d.). Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
Retrieved from: https://www.fda.gov/media/74382/download
- Freeman, M.D., R., & Nageotte, M.D. (2007, November). A protocol for use of oxytocin. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Retrieved from: https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(07)00991-X/fulltext
- Intrapartum and postpartum care of the mother. In: Guidelines for Perinatal Care, 7th ed. Elk Grove Village, Il: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2012: 180-181.
Retrieved from: https://www.acog.org/clinical-information/physician-faqs/-/media/3a22e153b67446a6b31fb051e469187c.ashx