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Oxytocin (Pitocin) Use and Birth Injury

What is Oxytocin ?

A woman’s body releases oxytocin, which is a natural hormone that manages critical aspects of the female reproductive systems, such as labor and delivery and lactation. The hypothalamus in the brain manufactures oxytocin; however, the posterior pituitary gland stores and releases it into the bloodstream. The primary physical functions of oxytocin are to stimulate uterine contractions in labor and childbirth and to stimulate contractions of breast tissue to aid in lactation after childbirth.

But the labor process can sometimes fail to begin on its own or unexpectedly stop. In some circumstances, a physician may need to induce labor using Pitocin—a medication that mimics the hormone oxytocin. This medication is sometimes administered to mothers at the end of pregnancy to trigger the labor process, including uterine contractions. Pitocin is administered intravenously (through an IV), and once administered, it’s absorbed into the bloodstream, where it begins to stimulate contractions in the same way that oxytocin would naturally.

What are the Risks of Pitocin?

While Pitocin has been used extensively in the labor and delivery process and has proven to be quite effective, it can also increase the risk of injury to both the mother and the child.

Research has shown that the risk of birth injuries increases with the use of Pitocin. As a result, the FDA has issued its strongest possible warning regarding the use of this medication.

The dosage of Pitocin is very important because the side effects of the drug can vary significantly among women, with some women’s bodies being highly sensitive to the same dose that may have no effect whatsoever in other women.

In addition, Pitocin has a delayed reaction time, and the drug usually doesn’t produce a result for at least 30 minutes. As a consequence, a doctor may administer a second dose before the first dose has had an opportunity to fully take effect.

Hyperstimulation is another issue in the use of Pitocin. The placenta, which is attached to the uterine wall, is vital in delivering nutrients and oxygen from the mother to the baby until the baby is able to survive on its own. During labor, contractions cause the placenta to become compressed, which limits the flow of oxygen and blood to the baby. This interruption lasts until each contraction subsides. Sufficient rest between contractions is critical for the baby to get enough oxygen before the next contraction starts. If the flow of oxygen and blood to the baby is compromised, the baby could face significant health risks. Hyperstimulation can result in contractions that last too long or are too powerful, resulting in stress on the placenta and baby.

What are the Possible Side Effects of Pitocin on the Baby and the Mother?

Because Pitocin isn’t a natural hormone, the mother’s body may respond differently to the administration of this drug than oxytocin that’s made naturally in her body. Physicians must monitor both mother and baby closely when administering this medication to determine how the mother responds and if the mother may also be producing oxytocin on her own.

An overdose of Pitocin can create adverse side effects for both the mother and the infant. The possible maternal side effects of Pitocin from overstimulation of the uterus (a condition known as Tachysystole) include: a postpartum hemorrhage, a uterine rupture, a maternal stroke, or the death of the mother.

The possible Pitocin side effects to the baby include:

  • Increased intracranial pressure;
  • Decreased heart rate;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat);
  • Infant seizures
  • Brain hemorrhage and brain damage;
  • Fetal stroke; and
  • The death of the baby.

Speak With an Experienced Michigan Medical Malpractice Attorney

If Pitocin is mismanaged during labor, it can cause severe injury to the baby and/or the mother. If you believe that Pitocin had a part in injury to you or your baby, speak with an experienced Michigan medical malpractice attorney.

For a free consultation, contact Buchanan Firm today!