Pitocin — a drug frequently used to induce or augment labor — has become notorious among women who would prefer a more natural birth. In some hospitals, pitocin is used so often that it has almost become a routine. Among many other objections to pitocin, women say that the drug makes labor more painful and thus increases the need for pain relief such as epidural anesthesia.
Pitocin — the side effects
Pitocin, a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin, offers a very powerful way to induce labor contractions, or to get labor going again after a woman’s contractions petered out. Pitocin is administrated through an IV, and can come in various doses. In almost all cases, pitocin will succeed in giving a woman labor contractions very quickly. It is precisely because it is so effective that pitocin has become a favorite among medical staff in labor wards in many countries worldwide. There sure are cases in which the induction of labor is undoubtedly medically indicated. The prolonged rupture of membranes without contractions and being beyond 42 weeks of pregnancy are two examples.
Yet, pitocin is a serious drug that can have serious side effects. It should not be used routinely in all laboring women, and that is exactly what the ladies in the natural birth movement complain about. Some of the side effects that pitocin can cause are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Blurred vision
- Weakness on one side
- Hemorrhage after birth
- Uterine rupture
Some of these side effects are mild and nothing to worry about, while others are very unpleasant, dangerous, and sometimes even potentially fatal — as you can see yourself from the list. Almost all medications have potential side effects. The question to ask is whether the benefits of using a particular drug outweigh the risks.
Besides the side effects that can come along with pitocin itself, there is another interesting thing to consider. Pitocin and epidural anesthesia have a fascinating interaction — the two often come together. Having an epidural anesthesia often limits a laboring woman’s freedom to move around as she pleases, and this can cause labor to stall. Pitocin would be the result. Likewise, many women report that their labor contractions are very painful after they have been given pitocin, and that would lead them to choose to have an epidural.
Are pitocin labors more painful?
I have had two homebirths, so it is no surprise that I have poked around websites promoting natural childbirth and midwifery. While reading blogs about natural birth, and frequenting internet message boards, I noticed something interesting: lots of women say that pitocin causes labor to be much more painful than it would naturally be. My friends who have had the chance to experience labor with and without pitocin all say the same thing as well, namely that natural labors are much easier to cope with than pitocin-augmented or induced labors.
Is there any scientific basis for this? Well, there is one study from 1987 that says that women with and without pitocin both rate their pain levels in a similar way. There is, in other words, not a whole lot of scientific evidence that the pain of labor and delivery actually gets worse if you are induced with pitocin, or if your labor is augmented with the drug. What you do have is numerous women reporting exactly that on blogs and forums all over the web. You have women who experienced natural labor and pitocin labor saying that natural labor is a walk in the park when you compare it to the induced variety. And every woman reading this probably has examples of the same report within her own circle of friends and relatives.
Does pitocin make labor more painful? We’re not sure. What we can say is that many women experience labor as being more painful and intense with pitocin. There can be a few reasons for that.; Natural labors build up more slowly, giving the mother the chance to gradually get used to the pain. Pitocin introduces the need for more frequent fetal monitoring, which means that a laboring mother is not able to move around quite as freely as she may otherwise.
In conclusion, we should remember that pitocin is a powerful medication that can do its job very well but should only be used in the presence of a true medical indication. Where pitocin is really needed, pain relief such as epidural anesthesia can help women who need it. A better way to deal with the possibly more intense pain of pitocin contractions is to avoid pitocin when it is not needed.