How Pitocin is Different than Oxytocin

A newborn skin to skin with doula
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The numbers of inductions of labor using artificial means like Pitocin and other medications have gone up dramatically in the last few years. There are hospitals in some areas that ninety percent of the women have their labors induced or augmented (sped up) with Pitocin. Since science shows us that inducing labor can increase the numbers of complications in the labor and with the baby, you might be surprised to note that many of the inductions are not for medical reasons, but rather reasons of convenience, practitioner or mother, known as social induction.

Indications for Medical Induction

Medical induction is done when either the mother or the baby need the pregnancy to be over for a reason, usually something physical in either one of them. Examples of reasons for induction that fall into the medical category include: 

One of the things that women talk about is that they are lead to believe that induction is completely safe and relatively easy, after all, Pitocin is just another form of the body's own oxytocin, right?

While this statement is generally true, artificially created hormones, including Pitocin do not act identically to the hormones in one's body. For example, in pregnancy both the mother and the baby produce oxytocin. The oxytocin produced by each reacts differently in the body because they each have separate jobs. 

Here are five things that you may not know about Pitocin and how it can affect your labor:

Pitocin is Released Differently

Oxytocin is released into your body in a pulsing action. It comes intermittently to allow your body a break. Pitocin is given in an IV in a continuous manner. This can cause contractions to be longer and stronger than your baby or placenta can handle, depriving your baby of oxygen.

Pitocin Prevents Your Body from Releasing Its Own Endorphins

When you are in labor naturally, your body responds to the contractions and oxytocin with the release of endorphins, a morphine-like substance that helps prevent and counteract pain. When you receive Pitocin, your body does not know to release the endorphins, despite the fact that you are in pain.

Pitocin is Not as Effective at Dilating the Cervix

When the baby releases oxytocin it works really well on the uterine muscle, causing the cervix to dilate. Pitocin works much more slowly and with less effect, meaning it takes more Pitocin to work. This is one reason why labor with Pitocin can take longer than spontaneous labor. Every person needs a different amount of Pitocin to achieve the desired effect. 

Pitocin Lacks a Peak at Birth

In natural labor, the body provides a spike in oxytocin at the birth, stimulating the fetal ejection reflex, allowing for a faster and easier birth. Pitocin is regulated by a pump and not able to offer this boost at the end. The pump is used to help regulate the amount of Pitocin that enters your system, with the goal of preventing you from getting too much which can cause too many contractions or contractions that are too strong.

This could cause fetal distress, so a pump is helpful in preventing this from happening.

Pitocin Can Interfere with Bonding

When the body releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, it promotes bonding with the baby after birth. Pitocin interferes with the internal release of oxytocin, which can disturb the bonding process.

Your body's own natural oxytocin is superior in many ways to Pitocin. There are also ways to increase the release of this natural oxytocin including skin-to-skin contact, lovemaking, breastfeeding, and others.

So, if you are presented with the option of an induction of labor, you might want to ask your doctor or midwife about whether or not it is being done for a medical reason or if it is something that a bit of time and patience will help alleviate.

This may mean waiting for spontaneous labor. It may mean additional testing to see if an induction is still the right choice. It may also mean doing an induction, but discussing different ways to achieve the same end - a safe birth and a healthy baby.

Sources:

ACOG Practice Bulletin Number 146: Management of Late-Term and Postterm Pregnancies, August 2014. Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124:390-396.

Boulvain, M et al. Induction of labor versus expectant management for large-for-date fetuses: a randomized controlled trial. The Lancet, Volume 385 , Issue 9987 , 2600 - 2605.

Sakala C, Romano AM, Buckley SJ. Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing, an Essential Framework for Maternal-Newborn Nursing. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2016 Jan 27. pii: S0884-2175(15)00052-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jogn.2015.12.006.

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