In the United States, pitocin induction – and augmentation with pitocin – are common practice, but are they safe?
Pitocin is the synthetic form of oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a natural hormone – produced by your body – that stimulates uterine contractions as well aid in the bonding process.
Pitocin is usually used to induce (start) or augment (increase the intensity and frequency of your contractions). Pit (as it is often referred to) is also sometimes used after labor to help your uterus contract in the event of a hemorrhage. Nowadays , it is also used for another – dreadful – purpose.
According to Williams Obstetrics, a pitocin induction – and/or augmentation - should only be performed when there is a clinical diagnosis of “hypotonic uterine dysfunction.” This is a condition in which contractions become ineffective at producing cervical dilation.
This means that even when it comes to OBGYNs, they should only use pitocin when indicated in abnormal labors. Moreover, contrary to popular belief, a truly “abnormal labor” is a very rare occurrence.
However, even though doctors are warned of the dangers of using pitocin, it remains the most used labor and delivery drug and it is used routinely to “control” normal labors – i.e. pitocin induction and augmentation.
As a matter of fact here is a scary statistic: in the United States, 81% of the women who had a hospital birth received pitocin during their labors – either for a pitocin induction and/or augmentation.
The medical system considers all labors as abnormal and therefore requiring “assistance.” The medical model also puts in the category of abnormal labors:
- Most pregnancies over 40 weeks or an “overdue” baby. Remember that no one and no machine can tell you when your baby was conceived and when he should be born. A due date is a guesstimate not a date set in concrete. Babies rarely come on their due date but they come instead when ready, if we let them.
- A pregnancy in which the waters have broken but the birth has not happened within 24 hours. The rational in this case is because of the increased risk of infections. If you are having a hospital birth with a doctor, infection is a very real threat for various reasons:
- Too many vaginal exams – which are totally unnecessary
- Hospitals are well known to be a place where all the sick people congregate and therefore where all kinds of nasty ‘bugs’ are located.
Pitocin Side Effects
In 1977, in a matched-sample comparison of home and hospital labors, Dr. Mehl reported that hospital labors were considerably shorter than homebirth labors.
You may think: “this is great!”…Well, not quite.
Dr. Mehl deducted that this resulted from a combination of interventions designed to speed labor such as:
- Amniotomy – artificially rupturing the bag of water which form a protection for your baby’s head and from infections
- Fundal pressure – manually pushing on the top of the uterus (this can be quite dangerous)
- Forced pushing – pushing before you have the urge even though you are “fully dilated”
- Forceps – dangerous
- Vacuum extraction – dangerous
- It is certainly very true that pitocin plays a very big part in the shortening of labor. But – as with anything else – it comes with a price.The major risk of pitocin induction and/or augmentation is not to you but to your baby. Indeed, it is well known that the increased pressure of the contractions can – and usually do – compress your baby’s umbilical cord and as a result cuts off his oxygen supply.We are certain that you already know that this to not be a good thing. Dr. Roberto Caldeyro-Barcia has demonstrated that uterine contractions stimulated with pitocin reach over 40 mm Hg pressure on the fetal head – normally a contraction registers around 24 mm Hg.
What does this mean?
This means that the quality – strength – and quantity of your uterine contractions are greatly affected when pitocin is used during labor. It is a fact that contractions tend to be longer, stronger, and with shorter relaxation periods between each of them when pitocin is used.
When you know and understand that during a contraction, the blood supply to your uterus – and therefore to your baby – is temporarily shut off, you realize very quickly how dangerous the use of pitocin can be.
If deprived of blood supply, your baby can experience what is called fetal bradycardia (or decreased fetal heart-rate deceleration) – heart-beat drops. This can – and often does – result in neurological damage and eventually death.
If your baby’s heart rate is indeed affected, an emergency c-section will usually be performed.
The diagnosis will be “fetal distress” and your doctor will be hailed as a hero for “saving” your baby’s life. The very same life that he put in danger in the first place!
In the 18th edition of Williams Obstetrics, it is stated:
“Oxytocin – pitocin – is a powerful drug, and it has killed or maimed mothers through rupture of the uterus and even more babies through hypoxia – asphyxia aka lack of oxygen – from markedly hypertonic uterine contractions.” Hypertonic means the contractions were too strong – which does not happen with a natural labor.
This medical textbook goes on to urge careful administration of the lowest possible amount of pitocin in order to avoid the tetanic – huge – contractions that can cause uterine rupture, and to insist that once the drip is started, the mother should never be left alone.
Obviously, these “rules” are too often disregarded to the detriment of women and their babies.
Pitocin Induction And Augmentation: More Complications
If you thought that the risks of uterine rupture and decreased oxygen supply to your baby were not bad enough there is more.
Pitocin induction – and/or augmentation – is well known to increase the pain of the contractions and therefore increase the discomfort for you – the mother.
It is a fact that pitocin-induced contractions are often double-peaked and back-to-back with little or no rest time in between. Needless to say this usually increases the level of stress and anxiety which a laboring mother will experience. This most often eventually leads to the administration of pain medication which is likely to further increase the distress to your baby.
And of course, the distress to your baby is likely to warrant a c-section. So as you can see, one intervention breeds another, then another… Yes, there is still more.
Pitocin is a strong anti-diuretic – meaning you can’t pee. Even at very low doses, pitocin in combination with IV fluids administered to starving – fasting – laboring moms can result in water intoxication. Water intoxication heightens your risk of pulmonary edema.
Pulmonary edema results when there is an accumulation of fluids in the lungs. It leads to impaired gas exchange and this can cause respiratory failure and can result in death.
Pitocin Induction And Augmentation: Conclusion
The medical model feels very strongly that birth should occur in a very certain amount of time. Anything out of this model will be interfered with and labeled “abnormal.” We have in part Dr. Emmanuel E. Friedman to thank for this since he was the creator of the dilation chart – about 1 cm per hour once labor starts.
Pregnant mothers are told in all kinds of subtle – and not so subtle – ways that their bodies are defective and therefore need assistance – pitocin induction for example. Assistance that most of the medical community is more than happy to render in the form of invasive – and dangerous – interventions.
The use of pitocin induction and/or augmentation is sadly the invitation to more interventions which more often than not results in a c-section to save the life of a baby and/or a mother.
Rickie Lake on Pitocin Induction and Augmentation
This same c-section will be hailed as “life saving” and will reaffirm in the minds of many that indeed birth is unsafe and should never occur out of a hospital.
Yet there are millions of educated women who know better and trust their bodies to birth in the comfort and dare we say – the safety – of their own homes!
Does pitocin have long term side effects for your baby? A 2007 study says maybe.
We must once again say that we are not ‘against’ medication and/or the use of technology in birth. Rather we are ‘for’ informed consent combined with the wise application of medications and/or technology.
Sources Pitocin Induction and Augmentation:
- Williams Obstetrics
- Stewart, D. and Stewart, L. The Five Standards of Safe Childbearing. National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth, Marble Hill, MO 1981