Pitocin and Pregnancy: What is it, and Why Do Doctor’s Prescribe It?

Pitocin is a hormone, or drug, that is used in some cases when doctors need to induce birth because of a medical condition or other complication. Pitocin induction is not common, but it’s a very potent uterus stimulant. Ultimately, women will be given the stimulant, and it will cause contractions by changing the calcium concentrations in the uterus’ muscle cells.

The Pitocin dosage will depend on your doctor’s recommendation, and this medication will only be provided through prescription. In most cases, this medication will be administered by:

  • Doctors
  • Hospitals
  • Clinics

But there are several other reasons to take his medication beyond simply inducing labor with Pitocin.

When Is Pitocin Needed?

The biggest question is when do doctors recommend taking this hormone? There are several different reasons why doctors recommend pitocin:

  • Diabetics are often prescribed this medication
  • Preeclampsia issues are a common cause for this medicine being prescribed
  • When there’s a medical reason to induce labor
  • When an abortion/miscarriage is incomplete

These are the most common reasons to be prescribed a Pitocin drip. Since the calcium will start to accumulate in the muscle cells of the uterus, it will women to have contractions. This will help with preeclampsia, and is often used if a woman has had an abortion or miscarriage where the entire fetus has not been expelled from the body.

Medical doctors are the only professionals who can prescribe this medication, and there must be a very valid reason for its prescription.

Pitocin is typically only prescribed after a woman has reached 39 weeks of pregnancy. This is done so that it lowers the risk of having to have a C-section, because there is a higher risk of having a C-section when using this medication. After the 39-week mark, a woman’s uterus has shown that it is strong enough to carry the baby to full term. For the most part, this medication is only prescribed after a woman has already had one child.

There’s also a chance that the child has not been fed properly from the placenta. This will cause the baby to be extra small, and doctors may find that it will be beneficial to induce labor to ensure the health of the baby is sufficient.

Reasons for Pitocin after Birth

You may have heard that this medication is offered to women following birth. This is normally done because it helps control the bleeding that occurs after childbirth. If a woman is having a particularly heavy bout of bleeding, pitocin will likely be prescribed.

Before, during and after pregnancy, pitocin is naturally produced by the body.

The uterus itself needs to contract following the removal of the placenta to control bleeding. When this does not occur, your doctor may prescribe pitocin. Breastfeeding actually causes the body to release pitocin naturally. When you breastfeed, your uterus will begin to clamp to prevent further bleeding from occurring.

And this natural hormone can also help your uterus return to its natural size.

What Are Pitocin Side Effects?

Since Pitocin is naturally produced by the body, under the name oxytocin in some cases (both names are interchangeable), there are few side effects when taking this medication. Many women are under the assumption that this medication will cause pregnancy contractions to be even worse; they are afraid that they will hurt intensely.

Doctors state that it will not hurt more, but it will bring on the pain faster.

What does this mean? Contractions normally start with minimal-to-no pain. They are there, but they are so far apart that they don’t actually hurt. After a while, these contractions intensify, and they will start occurring every 2 to 3 minutes. That’s when they become very painful. When you take pitocin, you’re going to be going from the mild contractions to very intense contractions rapidly. This means that you will skip the long contraction wait time, and move straight to the intense contractions that are needed for your uterus to dilate.

Rare side effects of this medication include:

  • Confusion
  • Convulsions
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Headaches
  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Rapid weight gain

These are very rare side effects, and you’ll want to check with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

There are many people that will overdose on this medication because they don’t take it properly. This is why prescriptions are required by law to take pitocin. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be having an overdose:

  • Restlessness
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Sleepiness
  • Slow response time
  • Shaking

When following the doctor’s recommended dosage, this should not occur.

Dosages and Examination

Your doctor will conduct a full physical examination to determine if you’re a good candidate for pitocin. The doctor will consider how far along you are in your pregnancy as well as your baby’s current health condition.

Following the exam, your doctor will determine if pitocin is the right choice for you.

Once pitocin is given, it will be given gradually in increasing doses until the uterus starts to respond to the hormone. Contraction levels need to be high enough so that the uterus starts to dilate, and you begin to give birth. But the doctor needs to be very careful to ensure that you do not overdose on this medication.

Contractions will be monitored, and the risk of having to have a C-section is increased when on this medication. If the medication does not do enough to induce labor, there is a high probability that you will need to have a C-section at this time.

Typically, dosages are provided through injections every 15 to 60 minutes, depending on the contractions.

While there are many minor interactions with other medications, the following four medications have a high risk of complications when taken in conjunction with pitocin:

  • Cervidil
  • Dinoprostone topical
  • Prepidil
  • Prostin E2

If you’re taking any of these medications, it is important to tell your doctor about them before taking pitocin. Major complications can occur. Anyone that has an STD, disease or other health-related issue should discuss this with their doctor during their initial examination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Pitocin safe for all pregnant women?

Pitocin is generally safe for most pregnant women who need labor induction or management of postpartum bleeding. However, it should only be used under medical supervision. It might not be suitable for those with certain health conditions or for those taking specific medications due to potential interactions. Your obstetrician will carefully evaluate your health before recommending Pitocin.

Can Pitocin usage affect my baby?

While Pitocin is used to stimulate contractions and facilitate labor, it generally does not harm the baby. However, it may cause rapid or intense contractions which could affect the baby’s oxygen supply. Your healthcare provider will monitor your baby’s heart rate closely during Pitocin-induced labor to ensure their safety.

How will I know if I’m having a Pitocin overdose?

Overdose symptoms include restlessness, slurred speech, unconsciousness, sleepiness, slow response time, and shaking. Remember, Pitocin should only be administered by a healthcare professional in a controlled setting, which greatly reduces the risk of overdose.

Can I refuse Pitocin if my doctor recommends it?

Yes, you have the right to refuse any medical treatment. However, understand that your doctor would recommend Pitocin only if it’s beneficial to your health or your baby’s. If you’re uncomfortable, discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider to explore alternatives or better understand the rationale.

Can Pitocin affect breastfeeding?

Pitocin itself doesn’t directly affect breastfeeding. In fact, the body naturally releases oxytocin (the hormone in Pitocin) during breastfeeding to stimulate milk let-down and help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. However, if you’re experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding, consult your healthcare provider for assistance.