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According to new research presented at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), labor induction via the hormone oxytocin may not be as safe for full-term newborns as most hospitals would have you believe. Pitocin (a brand of oxytocin) is often administered intravenously when a pregnant woman is has past her due date, when labor won’t start spontaneously — and/or when a pregnant woman’s water breaks before labor starts, Pitocin is also often used to help speed up a labor that is lagging or not progressing. This new research focuses primarily on how Pitocin affects babies. Researchers found that induction and augmentation of labor with oxytocin was an actual independent risk factor for a baby’s unexpected admission to the NICU and low Apgar scores (fewer than seven at five minutes old). Primary Investigator Michael S. Tsimis, MD, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, notes, “As a community of practitioners, we know the adverse effects of Pitocin from the maternal side, but much less so from the neonatal side. These results suggest that Pitocin use is associated with adverse effects on neonatal outcomes. It underscores the importance of using valid medical indications when Pitocin is used.” Read on to learn more about the shocking complications that may go hand in hand with a labor induced with Pitocin.
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According to ACOG, this study is the first of its kind to showcase the adverse effects of Pitocin use on newborns. However, this kind of research isn’t that new. Pitocin, in theory, works by increasing the frequency, duration, and intensity of uterine contractions. However, Pitocin has already been shown to have some major downsides. First of all, as my personal 20+ hour Pitocin labor can attest, Pitocin doesn’t always speed labor up, and it makes labor insanely more painful than normal and usually leads to further labor and birth interventions. It also comes with a slew of well-researched possible side effects, from increased risk of postpartum hemorrhage to increased stress on your baby. Past research, including the Pitocin package insert (pdf) itself, notes that Pitocin can cause anaphylactic reaction, postpartum hemorrhage, cardiac arrhythmia, vomiting, pelvic hematoma, hypertensive episodes and rupture of the uterus for mothers while causing poor breathing, permanent brain damage, low Apgar scores, jaundice, seizures and death for babies.
Current research shows that about 81% of all women who have a hospital birth, receive Pitocin. With that many Pitocin births on the table, it’s likely that hospitals are using Pitocin without great medical cause. What’s good about this new information is that ACOG is promoting it, meaning, perhaps more practitioners and moms-to-be will hear about this research and think twice before taking Pitocin unless it is entirely warranted. As Dr. Tsimis says, “We don’t want to discourage the use of Pitocin, but simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use.” To sum up, think very carefully and do your research before taking Pitocin.
Editor’s Note: When I was 8 days overdue with my daughter, my doctor insisted on inducing my labor with Pitocin. This lead to a dreaded “cascade of interventions” and made my birth experience absolutely horrific — and exceedingly long. I was never warned about any ill effects Pitocin could have on me or my baby. After learning from that experience, I had my son naturally with no interventions, and he too was 8 days overdue. Do your research and be your own advocate.-Beth