New Study Raises Uncertainty About Drug’s Safety During Labor


The labor inducing drug Pitocin, often given to women to help induce labor, has undergone new preliminary research. This new investigation has brought up issues regarding its safety during childbirth.

About Pitocin

The study determined that using Pitocin to either induce or help labor was connected with unplanned admissions to neonatal intensive care units (NICU). This study also found that Pitocin is a culprit in decreased Apgar scores, a test that determines a newborns’ physical state immediately following birth.

Pitocin is a man-made version of oxytocin, which is a hormone that naturally releases during labor. Oxytocin, as well as Pitocin, causes the uterus to contract. Normally, it’s taken intravenously in order to induce or quicken labor when health care providers feel it’s necessary.

Research Results

The new study consisted of researchers going over the records of over 3,000 women who carried their babies the full nine months and gave birth at Beth Israel between 2009 and 2011.

Pitocin use seemed to increase the risk to babies being admitted to the NICU in addition to staying for at least one day. In addition, Apgar scores of 7 or less also connected to the use of the labor inducing drug. A score below 7 is a red flag, signifying that the baby needs medical treatment. However, it’s not a sign that the baby has serious medical issues or the child will retain any health issues.

The research done at Beth Israel, however, was unable to definitively determine if it was Pitocin that caused the babies’ issues, or some other factor.

Other Studies

Other similar research has taken a much closer look at Pitocin’s use. Coincidentally, attempts to slow the induction of labor prior to 39 weeks, with the exception of life threatening situations, have gained momentum at the same time the research was undertaken.

A 2011 Cochrane Review determined that Pitocin didn’t appear to be the cause of negative effects on either the mother or baby and also seemed to decrease labor times by almost two hours. However, using Pitocin didn’t lower the rate of cesarean sections. This is one of the top excuses for some doctors to hand it out.

Revamping Policies

There are now many independent institutions that have also reviewed their policies and regulations regarding the use of Pitocin. Within the two-year time frame reviewed by scientists in the new study, Beth Israel put into action a system-level intervention. This new intervention is designed to oversee when the drug is given and how it is justified in any given patient’s medical records. These changes in this management led to a substantial decrease in Pitocin usage rates.

Despite these changes, Pitocin is still the most commonly used drug to induce labor, a widely used procedure across the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approximate that over 23 percent of pregnant women were induced in 2010.

Yet experts believe it is far too early to jump to any conclusions regarding the safety of Pitocin for newborn babies based solely on the new study.



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