What is Pitocin?
Pitocin is the trademark name that King Pharmaceuticals uses for its synthetic oxytocin. It is a clear liquid that is injected into an intravenous drip. Artificial oxytocin can also be found under the name syntocinon or generic oxytocin.
Oxytocin is one of the hormones that plays a part in the labor process. Injecting your body with synthetic oxytocin is expected to cause uterine contractions. It may be used to start labor, speed up a slow labor, or to cause the uterus to clamp down and stop bleeding after your baby and placenta are born.
Oxytocin is a love hormone. It is released during breastfeeding and by both males and females during orgasm. Oxytocin is one of the hormones responsible for the loving bonds that form between people.
How effective is Pitocin?
According to A guide to effective care in pregnancy an childbirth, oxytocin without also breaking the bag of waters has a high failure rate for inducing labor. Oxytocin is slower to work than prostaglandin preparations at producing contractions.
Dr. Michel Odent points out several important differences between naturally occurring oxytocin and synthetic forms. A major difference is that the naturally occurring oxytocin is released in pulses while synthetic administration is continuous. According to Dr. Odent, this may be one of the reasons doses of the synthetic hormone must be so much higher than what occurs naturally.
Synthetic oxytocin, like naturally occurring oxytocin, is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier. However, the naturally occurring form is created in the brain and so is able to affect behavior before being released into the blood stream. The synthetic form does not have an opportunity to affect the brain and so is not able to encourage the bonding between new families.
Why choose synthetic oxytocin?
Synthetic oxytocin has a relatively short half-life (about 15 minutes), which means that it is easy to reduce the dosage or stop the medication if the uterus becomes hyper stimulated or if the baby shows signs of distress.
Synthetic oxytocin is cheaper and easier to store than the more effective prostaglandin E2 preparations, making it more easily available.
Risks of using Pitocin
Risks for Mother
Mothers using Pitocin frequently report increased pain with contractions. Most mother using Pitocin also use pain medication to handle the increased pain.
Pitocin use requires continuous monitoring to detect complications and/or progress which interferes with mobility.
Pitocin use requires an IV for administration.
Pitocin use can cause long contractions and contractions with double peaks.
Pitocin use slightly increases the possibility of a uterine rupture.
Pitocin use increases the likelihood of a fetal malpresentation or malposition.
Pitocin use is associated with an increased need for cesarean surgery for distocia and fetal distress.
Risks for Baby
Pitocin use increases the likelihood of depressed fetal heart rate patterns.
Pitocin use increases the chances of Fetal Distress due to decreased oxygen availability.
There are increased risks to your baby if you have a cesarean surgery.
For more information about Pitocin
Compare to other ways to start labor.
Robbie Davis-Floyd discusses the use of pitocin in her book Birth as an American Rite of Passage. You can read the section on pitocin here.
Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth. 1999. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Enkin, Keirse, Nilson, Crowther, Duley, Hodnett and Hofmeyr. A guide to effective care in pregnancy and childbirth Third Edition. 2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Odent, Michel. Drips of synthetic oxytocin. http://www.wombecology.com/oxytocin.html. Downloaded January 1, 2008.