How Is Pitocin Used to Induce Labor?

Woman on the electronic fetal monitor in labor
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Question: How is pitocin used to induce labor?

Answer: Pitocin is a liquid medication that is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring hormone, oxytocin. Pitocin is diluted with a standard saline solution an introduced into your body by IV drip. The medication is regulated on a medication pump. This is an attempt to minimize complications and to help your doctor or midwife mimic normal labor as much as possible.

This IV drip will be set to deliver a certain amount of Pitocin per hour. Depending on the orders written by your practitioner, the Pitocin drip will normally be turned up every hour until you have reached the contraction pattern that they are looking for you to have. This may be different for each woman. Some practitioners turn the Pitocin up really quickly and others go more slowly. Some of this will depend on how you respond to the Pitocin and how well your baby responds to Pitocin. When used with an amniotomy, breaking the bag of waters, there is a slight reduction in the cesarean rate.

According to a national survey of US mothers, about half of the women giving birth will receive this synthetic form of oxytocin to either induce or speed up their labors. This means that you have a very good chance of experiencing pitocin in your next labor and birth experience.

What Does a Pitocin Induction Look Like

Since Pitocin is a medication that causes your uterus to contract, there are some additional safety precautions that are often taken to ensure the safety of you and your baby.

This means that you will likely have some added safety interventions. 

When you have Pitocin you will also normally have:

  • continuous IV drip to deliver both the medication and fluids
  • continuous electronic fetal monitoring to monitor your uterine contractions and baby
  • regular blood pressure checks

The Risks Associated with Pitocin

There are increased risks with using Pitocin including:

Women have different views on Pitocin. Some find it wasn't a problem at all, while others intensely dislike the thought of it. I think much of this has to do with your expectations of the medication as well as how your practitioner uses the medication. Discussions about how labor will be managed ahead of time will help you adjust to the use of this medication.

Pitocin to Speed Up Labor

Pitocin can also be used to speed up your labor, known as the augmentation of labor. While there were no differences in the cesarean rates for women who had their labor augmented with Pitocin, there was only a slight decrease in the amount of time in labor, about two hours. This did not alter the outcomes but may matter to you one way or another. Be sure to discuss this option with your doctor or midwife if labor is slowing down.

More Information:

Breaking the Water as Induction | Foley Catheter Induction | Other Interventions in Labor

Sources:

Bugg GJ, Siddiqui F, Thornton JG. Oxytocin versus no treatment or delayed treatment for slow progress in the first stage of spontaneous labour. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD007123. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007123.pub3

Costley PL, East CE. Oxytocin augmentation of labour in women with epidural analgesia for reducing operative deliveries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD009241. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009241.pub3

Declercq ER, Sakala C, Corry MP, Applebaum S, Herrlich A. Major Survey Findings of Listening to Mothers(SM) III: Pregnancy and Birth: Report of the Third National U.S. Survey of Women's Childbearing Experiences. J Perinat Educ. 2014 Winter;23(1):9-16. doi: 10.1891/1058-1243.23.1.9.

Wei S, Wo B, Qi H, Xu H, Luo Z, Roy C, Fraser WD. Early amniotomy and early oxytocin for prevention of, or therapy for, delay in first stage spontaneous labour compared with routine care. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD006794. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006794.pub4

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