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June 9, 2023 | 6 min read

In certain cases, doctors may choose to use Pitocin during childbirth to induce labor. If the mother is overdue or if there are risks to the health of either the baby or the mother, early delivery may be necessary. Pitocin is typically the preferred medication for inducing labor in these situations; however, if Pitocin is administered improperly or if inducing labor is done without appropriate cause, it can lead to severe harm for both the mother and the baby.

The birth injury lawyers at Burg Simpson Law Firm have substantial experience in a range of matters involving medical negligence. We assist families who have been impacted by negligent labor induction, Pitocin errors, and more. If you or your baby suffered an injury during pregnancy or childbirth, contact our office for a FREE and confidential case evaluation.

What is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a drug commonly prescribed by obstetricians for women about to give birth. It is administered by medical professionals across the county to induce labor and make uterine contractions occur at a more regular rate. While the use of Pitocin is common to speed up the delivery process, when improperly administered, it can result in injuries to the baby or the mother.

Why Do Obstetricians Use Pitocin During Childbirth?

When a pregnant mother naturally goes into labor, her body produces a hormone called oxytocin that causes the uterus to contract. Pitocin is a synthetic form of this hormone. 

Contractions of the uterus are necessary to move the baby through the birth canal. If a medical team determines that is necessary to induce labor, the physician may order Pitocin to cause the uterine contractions to become stronger and occur more frequently.

Common Reasons to Administer Pitocin Include:

  • The baby is overdue.
  • Labor has begun, but there are no contractions.
  • Labor has already started but is not progressing within a reasonable time frame.
  • The mother has a medical condition such as pre-eclampsia, diabetes, or hypertension.

What Is the Difference Between Pitocin and Oxytocin?

During childbirth, the body naturally produces oxytocin, a hormone that triggers powerful and frequent contractions in the uterus. Pitocin, on the other hand, is a man-made version of oxytocin.

Furthermore, Pitocin and oxytocin differ in their mode of transportation throughout the body. Oxytocin is released in periodic pulses by the posterior pituitary gland in the brain, allowing for intervals of rest for the uterus between contractions. In contrast, Pitocin is delivered via an intravenous route, allowing for continuous administration, which can lead to overstimulation of the uterus.

Recommended Pitocin Use

According to current research, it is not advised to surpass the normal levels of uterine activity to induce a vaginal birth. Pitocin should only be administered to induce labor in situations where continuing the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother or baby’s life. Therefore, the use of Pitocin should only be considered when it is medically necessary and with continuous fetal monitoring to ensure adequate oxygen supply to the baby.

To ensure safe administration, Pitocin should be initiated at a low dosage due to the varying effects it may have on different women. Hypersensitive individuals may experience excessive contractions, therefore it is recommended that intravenous Pitocin be administered through the drip method and closely monitored by medical staff. While Electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) can detect overdose and oxygen levels, only intrauterine pressure recording can accurately assess pressure and tone in the uterus between contractions. It is important for doctors to be prepared to quickly discontinue Pitocin if the health of the mother or baby is at risk.

Adverse Reactions to Pitocin

Pitocin can cause adverse reactions such as:

Uterine Hyper Stimulation

One of the conditions caused by Pitocin during childbirth is called Uterine Hyper Stimulation, which means the uterus is contracting too frequently. During Uterine Hyper Stimulation, the baby can become distressed because he or she does not have time to reoxygenate between contractions. Following a contraction, the baby needs time to rest to restore the flow of oxygen to the brain and vital organs. Under these circumstances, the amount of Pitocin may need to be adjusted, or delivery may be required to prevent injury.

Low Oxygenation

When uterine contractions become excessive, and the baby is subject to low oxygenation and can develop hypoxia, acidosis, and even birth asphyxia. The acidosis and birth asphyxia can cause hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, which may result in seizures, developmental delays, or cerebral palsy.

The Importance of Monitoring the Baby’s Heart Rate with Pitocin Use

When Pitocin is administered to a mother during labor, it is also imperative for medical practitioners to also monitor the baby’s heart rate during the delivery process. A fetal heart monitor will alert the medical team when the baby is not receiving enough oxygen and requires immediate intervention to prevent injury.

Pitocin Birth Injuries

If Pitocin is improperly administered, it can lead to severe birth complications and life-threatening injuries. Some common complications include:

  • Fetal death
  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE)
  • Neonatal jaundice and/or kernicterus
  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Retinal hemorrhages (abnormal bleeding of the blood vessels in the eye)
  • Low Apgar scores
  • Neonatal (infant) seizures
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate patterns 
  • Fetal distress

Pitocin Maternal Injuries

Apart from endangering the baby, Pitocin can also jeopardize the safety of the pregnant patient during and after the labor and delivery process. Since both patients are at risk, it is imperative for physicians to prioritize the safety of both the mother and the baby when considering the use of Pitocin induction. 

Maternal injuries and complications associated with Pitocin during childbirth include:

  • Accumulation of blood in the soft tissues of the pelvis (pelvic hematoma)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Bleeding between the innermost two membranes that cover the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage)
  • Water intoxication with convulsions due to Pitocin’s antidiuretic effects
  • Uterine rupture and subsequent hemorrhaging
  • Strong and prolonged uterine contractions

Talk to a Birth Injury Lawyer for FREE

If you or your child have sustained an injury that resulted from the improper use of Pitocin during childbirth by your medical team, call Burg Simpson Law Firm for help now. Our medical malpractice team has over four decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases related to medication errors administered during labor and delivery.

Good Lawyers. Changing Lives. 

Contact Burg Simpson online or at 888-895-2080 for a FREE and confidential case evaluation.

About Burg Simpson Shareholder Scott Eldredge

Named shareholder Scott Eldredge skillfully leads Burg Simpson’s Medical Malpractice Department. Mr. Eldredge has been practicing law continuously with the firm since his admission to the Colorado Bar in 1983. His legal practice focuses primarily on complex medical malpractice cases with a particular emphasis on birth injury claims.

Scott Eldredge maintains an active trial practice and appears regularly in state and federal courts throughout the country. An active member in the legal community, Mr. Eldredge is a former member of the Executive Committee and Board of Directors for the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association. He is also a longstanding member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), a national organization comprised of both plaintiff and defense attorneys dedicated to preserving trial by jury. Additionally, Scott Eldredge is the former president of the National Medical Malpractice Trial Lawyers Association and a former adjunct professor of law at University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

About Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine

One of America’s foremost plaintiff trial firms, Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, has a longstanding and nationwide reputation for fighting relentlessly and successfully for victims of negligence, malfeasance, malpractice, and abuse. Our attorneys have never hesitated to fight for our client’s rights and consistently face and defeat formidable adversaries, including big insurance companies, banks, and pharma. As a result, Burg Simpson Law Firm has secured more than $2.7 billion in verdicts, settlements, and judgments in practice areas spanning catastrophic personal injury, mass tort and class actions regarding gas explosions, dangerous pharmaceutical drugs and devices, medical malpractice, complex commercial and business litigation, construction defects, and workers’ compensation. The firm’s success has also included more than 200 recoveries in excess of $1 million.