Medical malpractice attorney Laura Brown explains the potential dangers associated with using Pitocin during childbirth
During labor and inducing labor, a drug called Pitocin is commonly used – used probably in every labor and delivery department in the country at some time or another. Pitocin is a drug that causes the uterus to contract, and increases the frequency or the number of contractions over time. And the reason it’s used is to initiate, to start labor, or to make labor occur at a more regular rate.
However, Pitocin, if it’s not used correctly, can be very dangerous. There are side effects of Pitocin that can be dangerous to the mother and to the baby. And one of those is a condition called tachysystole. That’s the medical word, but another word for it is uterine hyper stimulation.
And that means that the uterus is contracting too frequently, too many times. And because of that, the baby doesn’t have enough time between those contractions to rest…to kind of take a breath and reoxygenate and get ready for the next contraction. And if that continues too long, that hyper stimulation of the uterus, then the baby runs out of his oxygen reserve, his kind of safety net of oxygen, and is at risk then of suffering a brain injury from lack of oxygen.
There should be signs that the baby is having trouble with his oxygenation on the fetal heart monitor. So, if the nurses and medical providers are monitoring the fetal heart monitor, they should see signs of this and should be prepared to act…to help the baby in order to get him to a state that he’s got enough oxygen. There should also be signs of too many contractions on the monitor. The monitor will show that the contractions are too frequent and there should be interventions to stop this.
Pitocin is a drug that is commonly used to induce labor. Pitocin is a synthetic (manufactured) form of the naturally occurring hormone, oxytocin. When a pregnant woman is ready for labor and delivery, her body releases oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. The contractions of the uterus force the baby through the birth canal for delivery. When a doctor decides to induce labor, the doctor may order Pitocin to cause the uterine contractions to occur more frequently and to be stronger.
Pitocin is a useful drug, but it can also be an extremely dangerous drug if it is not used properly by hospitals, doctors, and nurses. Pitocin can cause the uterine contractions to become too strong or to happen too frequently or too fast. When Pitocin is used on a VBAC mother or on a mother who has delivered five or more babies (a “grand multiparous” mother), there is an increased risk of uterine rupture.
When a mother begins labor naturally, her body produces the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes the uterus to contract. Pitocin is the synthetic or manufactured form of oxytocin. Pitocin-induced contractions may be longer, stronger, and/or closer together than a mother’s natural contractions. This can cause the baby to become stressed because there is not enough time between contractions to recover. During a contraction, there is a temporary decrease in blood-and-oxygen flow to the baby. After the contraction, there should be a period of rest before the next contraction. The baby needs this rest time to restore the flow of oxygen to the brain and vital organs.
When there are too many contractions without enough rest time between the contractions, the baby can’t “breathe.” If the excessive uterine contractions and low oxygenation to the baby continue and become severe enough, the baby develops hypoxia (low oxygen levels), acidosis, and even birth asphyxia. The acidosis and birth asphyxia can cause hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, which may result in seizures, developmental delays, and cerebral palsy.
Laboring mothers respond differently to Pitocin, so it is very important for medical providers to carefully monitor the dose of Pitocin, watch for signs of uterine hyperstimulation, and monitor the baby’s heart for abnormal heart rate patterns, which indicate developing hypoxia and acidosis. When Pitocin is given to a laboring mother, a fetal heart monitor device is used to monitor the mother’s contractions and the baby’s heart rate.
When the contractions are too frequent or too strong, or when there is inadequate rest time between contractions, medical intervention may be necessary to make sure that the baby is getting enough oxygen. The Pitocin may need to be decreased or discontinued, and the baby may require intrauterine resuscitation or delivery to prevent injury.