How Pitocin Is Used to Induce Labor

Know the signs of preterm labor in twin pregnancy.

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When labor does not begin on its own, a woman may need to be induced. There are several methods to encourage labor, including the use of medication. One of the most commonly used is a drug called Pitocin.

How Pitocin Induction Works

Pitocin is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin which causes the uterus to contract. The liquid medication is diluted with a standard saline solution and given in an intravenous (IV) drip.

Pitocin is regulated on a medication pump to make sure a very specific amount is given. Carefully regulating the dose helps to minimize complications and allows your doctor or midwife to mimic the course of normal labor as much as possible.

The IV drip will be set to deliver a certain amount of Pitocin every hour. Depending on the orders written by your practitioner, the Pitocin drip is usually turned up each hour until you reach a certain contraction pattern. The desired pattern will be different for each woman.

Some practitioners choose to turn the Pitocin up quickly, while others prefer to take it slow. The speed of the drip depends on how well you and your baby respond to the drug.

Using Pitocin to Speed Up Labor

Pitocin can also be used to speed up your labor. This is known as augmentation of labor. However, a 2011 study found that, on average, Pitocin results in a relatively small decrease in total labor time (about two hours).

In addition to or instead of using Pitocin, you can ask your doctor or midwife about other methods to speed up slow labor.

Safety Precautions

If you are being induced with Pitocin, there are several additional safety precautions that may be needed. Your doctor or midwife may also want you to have:

Pitocin Risks

As with any medication or intervention, using Pitocin has risks. Some possible risks and complications of using Pitocin include:

  • Fetal distress
  • More likely to request pain medication, like an epidural
  • Cesarean section (from the induction itself; may be reduced with amniotomy)
  • Contractions that come too close together
  • Uterine rupture

There are certain situations when Pitocin should not be used. Some examples include:

  • You are allergic to Pitocin or any of the medication's ingredients
  • You have a condition that may be affected by the drug's use, such as high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • You have a pregnancy complication, such as placenta previa
  • The baby is not in a position conducive to delivery (malposition) or there is fetal distress
  • You're carrying multiples
  • You have had a C-section before
  • You have given birth more than six times

Is Labor More Painful With Pitocin?

Every experience with Pitocin will be different. Some women have no problems with the medication, while others feel an intense dislike of the effect the medication has on their labor.

Your personal experience will depend on your expectations, how you and your baby respond, and how your practitioner uses the medication. Discussing how your labor will be managed ahead of time will help you adjust if Pitocin is needed.

In some cases, your plans to have unmedicated labor may be altered if your healthcare provider believes Pitocin is the right choice for you and your baby. Whether your birth experience goes according to plan or not, it is helpful to have adequate support, such as a partner, family, or doula.

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  1. 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 Syst Rev. 2011;(7):CD007123. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd007123.pub2

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