These days, Pitocin is commonly used in labour and delivery. It's used if your labour needs to be induced for whatever reason, or if your labour slows down or stops at some point and needs a boost to get going again. But what is it, and how does it affect you, your baby and labour?
Pitocin is the synthetic version of the natural hormone called Oxytocin, which is often referred to as the love hormone. It not only gets your uterus contracting but it's also instrumental in breastfeeding and bonding with your baby. Pitocin is administered by an I.V. in your hand or wrist. It's started at a low dose and is then gradually increased every 30 minutes until your contractions are happening regularly every two minutes. Naturally, the oxytocin would start low and gradually increase over the course of your labour. With Pitocin, care providers will try to mimic that by increasing it gradually. However, it'll still be quicker than what your body would likely do on its own.
The benefits of Pitocin include helping a labour that needs starting or continuing and to help preserve a vaginal delivery. Also, if any complications arise with the baby because of the Pitocin, it can be stopped. The baby's negative reaction (i.e. decreased heartbeats), usually calms down fairly quickly after that. Pitocin doesn't stay in your system very long after the infusion is stopped, and that's usually enough to rectify any labour-related complications.
But the list of risks that come with using Pitocin is lengthy. Pitocin can cause hyper contracting, which means that the uterus is strongly contracting either every minute or non-stop. This is extremely dangerous for both the birthing parent and the baby. There are medications that can slow things down, but it'll likely result in an emergency cesarean. You'll end up having very strong contractions, which can hinder an attempt at birth without an epidural (if that was your plan). As stated above, Pitocin can also cause fetal distress, which is indicated by the baby's heart rate decreasing. If this isn't rectified quickly will often lead to the aforementioned emergency cesarean. Most babies can handle stronger contractions. But while you're able to get an epidural for the increasing intensity, your baby can't- and some find this too stressful to manage.
Your labour with pitocin will also have to be continuously monitored to watch the baby's heart rate and your contractions. This means you'll likely be stuck in or around the bed for the duration of labour. Because of the risk of cesarean birth when using Pitocin, you won't be able to eat solid food until after the baby is born. If the Pitocin is started early on in labour, it could mean a very long time of only consuming water, ice chips, juice, and jello. That can result in having very little energy to push the baby out.
Pitocin also doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier, which means it doesn't affect your brain. This can affect bonding with your baby and breastfeeding because Pitocin can halt your own natural oxytocin from releasing if used over a long period of time. Recently, Pitocin use in labour has been linked to an increase in postpartum depression and anxiety. Therefore, it should be used as a necessity to aid labour and birth, not because your care providers are impatient. Finally, a more serious risk with Pitocin use is the risk of uterine rupture- A tear in the uterus as a result of the stronger contractions. This can be incredibly life-threatening to both the birthing parent and their baby.
When entering into induction for labour or augmentation of the labour contractions it is vitally important that you ask your care provider lots of questions about the benefits, risks, and alternatives to using Pitocin. It's also crucial to have support after your baby is born for help with breastfeeding, recovery and much more.