Many women in recent years have been helped by Pitocin or oxytocin, drugs used to induce labor or speed it up once it has begun. But the use of Pitocin has now skyrocketed, to the point where in many labor and delivery units, the administration of Pitocin has become standard in nearly every birth, simply to shorten an otherwise natural and safe labor. The expression “pit her” (short for the directive to administer Pitocin) is now heard more often than “it’s a boy!” in many hospitals.
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone used by a woman’s body during the labor and delivery process to cause contractions and expel the baby. Pitocin is simply a synthetic (man-made) version of Oxytocin. But while Pitocin is very similar to natural Oxytocin in structure and effect, there are a few key differences.
First and foremost, Pitocin causes sharper contractions than natural Oxytocin. Additionally, Oxytocin is released in a woman’s body irregularly, in short bursts. Pitocin, by contrast, is administered using an intravenous pump, and enters a woman’s body in a continuous stream. Women administered Pitocin thus experience fast, hard, painful labors.
This increase in the speed of labor can be extremely useful. If for medical reasons labor must be completed quickly to avoid fetal distress, Pitocin can be a good choice.
But the use, and the overuse, of Pitocin can be extremely dangerous. In fact, the overuse of Pitocin, or the failure to properly manage and monitor a patient who has been administered Pitocin can cause severe injury or death. These practices can even amount to Pitocin-related medical malpractice.
The primary, general rule for the use of Pitocin is that it should only be used by a competent, experienced labor and delivery physician, and in a careful, professional manner. If Pitocin is used in excessive quantities, serious injury can result, which threatens the life of both mother and infant. Among the risks of excessive Pitocin are:
- Rupture of the uterus
- Premature separation of the placenta (which in turn can lead to brain injury or death of the infant)
- Post-birth hemorrhage
- Fetal asphyxia
- Neonatal hypoxia
- Brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
To avoid fetal distress and the attendant dangers during Pitocin use, an electronic fetal monitor should be used continuously and watched carefully. And at the first sign of fetal distress, such as a change in fetal heartrate or fetal movement, Pitocin should be halted. The failure to do so may amount to medical malpractice.
If your doctor administers Pitocin, you should demand fetal monitoring, and be proactive – speak up if you believe that the continued use of Pitocin could be harming you or your child. If you were given Pitocin, and then experienced birth injury to yourself or your child, an experienced birth injury attorney can help you to determine if legal action is warranted.
For a free consultation with a top Chicago birth injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.