Pitocin Pros and Cons

March 16, 2008

Many women going into labor have heard the word "pitocin," and they are vaguely familiar with its purpose.  It is important, however, to be completely informed about the benefits and drawbacks of pitocin, and to be ready to make an informed decision if confronted with the need to use it.

What is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic oxytocin.  Oxytocin is a hormone that a woman's body naturally produces that cause contractions to begin.  When oxytocin isn't doing the job to get labor going, for whatever reason, then hospitals frequently use pitocin to get this process started.  This medical intervention is usually used in order to get labor started and to speed up the labor process.

When a woman's body makes oxytocin, it is secreted in bursts.  This creates a natural flow.  When pitocin is administered in a hospital, the woman has to be placed on an intravenous pump that gives her a steady flow of pitocin.  These contractions are quantitatively and qualitatively different than the ones she would experience on her own.

Benefits of Pitocin

In many cases, when a doctor decides that a  woman needs pitocin, her uterus is not creating the contractions that she needs in order to deliver her baby.  Without this attempt with pitocin, she will, undoubtedly, end up having a Caesarean section.  It is almost always advisable to try intervention during labor that could potentially avoid the need for a Caesarean section.  Furthermore, in situations where active labor is very slow, the woman's risk of having a Caesarean section can actually be decreased if pitocin is used early.  Rather than waiting for a labor to completely stall, the use of pitocin can help to jump start a labor that is going slowly (after five centimeters dilation).  Pitocin can mean the difference between having a natural vaginal delivery and having a Caesarean section.

Drawbacks to Pitocin

Pitocin creates a birth that needs a great deal of intervention, and this may be a drawback for some women who want to experience natural childbirth.  Every woman reacts differently to pitocin, so the dose that each woman is given must be carefully monitored.  This means that the nurse will be constantly monitoring the mother.  The delivering woman has to remain hooked up to an IV (keeping her from showering and moving around too much during the labor), and she must have a fetal monitor while she is on medication.  Unfortunately, there are instances where the use of pitocin can cause a woman to request pain medication, since she is confined to her bed and has a deceased ability to deal with her contractions naturally.  Some women also complain that pitocin creates stronger contractions, and that labor contractions are more painful with pitocin than without.

Pitocin is frequently used after the delivery, as doctors say that it helps to get the placenta out keeps the woman from having postpartum hemorrhaging.  It is important for a woman to ask her doctor if he/she plans to use pitocin after the birth.  In general, the body's natural oxytocin and the baby's nursing should be satisfactory, and pitocin should not be necessary. Often, the doctor can allow the woman time to see if her oxytocin and the baby's nursing achieve these goals without having to administer pitocin.

It is important for a woman to know what she is being given during and after delivery, and to make her own informed decisions.

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