The Rise in Pitocin Induced Childbirth

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Labor is an exceptional, natural occurrence that a women’s body is perfectly designed for. And so is her brain. All day, every day the brain and body communicate with each other through hormones, pregnant or not. When pregnant, there is one hormone that talks a lot louder than the others called oxytocin. Oxytocin is typically referred to as the bonding, trusting or loving hormone. It’s synthesized in the brain and creates the life-long bond between mom and baby. Outside of pregnancy, it helps create bonds between lovers and helps us trust and connect with others in general. Simply put, it is THE LOVE HORMONE.

Oxytocin and Labor

A combination of complex mechanisms occurs prior to labor, which science isn’t close to completely understanding. But it is very clear a women’s body somehow knows exactly what to do on its own.  It’s all about the timing. Together, a woman’s brain, body, and unborn baby decide when the time is right, and then bursts of oxytocin are released from mom’s brain. The oxytocin travels down to the uterus and induces contractions. Over time, baby can slide through the vaginal canal and into the world. When this special timing is disrupted, either artificially or by medical emergency, that’s when problems arise.

Pitocin and Induction

Pitocin, an artificial oxytocin, is a drug used to induce labor. In fact, it is used in over 50% of deliveries in the U.S. In some cases, it is used due to significant risks such as placental abruption, gestational hypertension, preeclampsia, eclampsia or chorioamnionitis. However, too frequently, a woman is pressured to induce her labor for reasons that are not health-related. A recent study found that for many inductions, physicians are medically unjustified in giving women oxytocin to induce their labors.

Inducing a woman’s labor that has not naturally began is not a matter that should be taken lightly. It is a medical intervention that poses a risk to women and their babies. When induced, a woman is given ptiocin, at a time when her body is not ready to deliver. Pitocin increases her chances of having excessive and painful contractions. The painful contractions may necessitate an epidural because her cervix doesn’t open properly. This can lead to a cesarean. Sometimes the mom and/or baby react harshly react to pitocin. The side effects for pitocin include: irregular fetal heartbeat, excessive contractions and postpartum hemorrhaging. These too can lead to a cesarean. One study found that induction of labor is associated with an increased risk of a cesarean section and hospitals with higher induction rates also have higher cesarean section rates. Another study shows that labor induction may increase chances of cesarean section by twofold.

The Brain to Body Connection

Rushing a woman’s labor along may not be the best option for her body either. A common scenario includes a woman first going into early labor at home. Once admitted to the hospital, her labor ceases. Why? Her instinctual brain is simply trying to process whether it is safe to give birth in this new environment or should she run for hills to save her newborn. In time, a woman’s brain can determine that it’s safe to have the baby and her labor will continue. But, hospital care givers may not be so patient. Instead, they hurry the process along with pitocin. In the end, mom and baby suffer.

Pitocin and the FDA

Like many medications given to pregnant women, appropriate studies have not been conducted to determine the proper dosing, safety or even efficacy. Among many criteria, different stages of labor must be tested and women with different pregnancy and health histories must be taken into consideration. This has not been done. In fact, oxytocin (pitocin) currently holds a black box warning from the FDA:

…not indicated for elective labor induction since inadequate data to evaluate benefit vs risk; elective induction defined as labor initiation without medical indications

This means that physicians are currently using women and their unborn babies as clinical study participants without their consent. Worse yet, most are not collecting any data to evaluate the safety or efficacy of this drug.

In a Nut Shell

Many women are given pitocin are unaware that they have the option to wait for their bodies to take their natural courses. Labor is a delicate process that consists of a balance between a woman’s hormone levels and her babies’. This process takes time. Unfortunately, once admitted to the hospital, too often women are not given this time and the intelligence of our bodies is dismissed.

Learn about labor and delivery. Once informed, you decide.

Hormones MatterTM Medical Disclaimer: All material on this web site is provided for your information only and may not be construed as, nor should it be a substitute for, professional medical advice. To read more about our health policy see Terms of Use.

Denise McKee, Ph.D. is an educator by nature. She’s expanding education from the classroom to the blogging scene as a passionate advocate for educating women about their bodies. With a doctorate in Neuroscience (Reproductive Neuroendocrinology) and postdoc training in Reproductive Medicine, she’s beyond excited about sharing what’s she learned throughout the years.

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