Pitocin is a medicine sometimes used to help start labor in pregnancy and can benefit the health of the mother and newborn child if appropriately used. The body produces a hormone called oxytocin that helps to start the labor process naturally. Pitocin is a synthetic type of oxytocin that doctors can use to spur the body into labor to deliver the baby, called “inducing labor.”
A doctor might prescribe intravenous—IV—Pitocin to begin the labor process or stimulate labor during the delivery. After the baby is born, Pitocin may be given to cause the uterus to contract and help deliver the placenta and help control bleeding postpartum. If administered incorrectly or excessively, Pitocin can lead to excess uterine stimulation that can cause complications.
Experts recommend that Pitocin be administered in small doses, combined with careful monitoring of contractions. When the strength of the contractions is considered sufficient, the medical professionals might continue a small amount of the drug or discontinue its use. In some cases, the starting dose is enough to encourage the body to continue labor independently. Doctors and nurses are taught that there are many ways to cause Pitocin errors and to develop systems to avoid dangerous complications.
Powerful doses of Pitocin can lead to contractions that are too strong and can interfere with the baby’s oxygen supply. In these cases, the risk to the baby can include brain damage and cerebral palsy.
When Pitocin errors occur, risks of complications or dangers for the mother and baby include:
Contractions that are too aggressive and too rapid can cause the baby to have difficulty keeping the proper heart rate. If they continue and increase in severity, the child can suffer from decreased oxygen levels, leading to birth asphyxia and cerebral palsy.
Medical and pharmaceutical experts, including the Federal Drug Administration, recommend that doctors who administer Pitocin be specially trained to recognize the indicators of medical distress from Pitocin errors or have a professional available who is an expert in the subject. They also recommend that the health facility has a doctor who can perform a cesarean section, or C-section, immediately if complications become severe and the risk to the mother and child is too great to continue with vaginal delivery.
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