What Is Pitocin and How Is It Used in Labor?

Often in cases where labour is not progressing the way it should be, doctors prescribe medicine to stimulate or augment the process of increasing contractions. This is usually done when the contractions are not as frequent as they should be or when the cervix is not dilating enough to allow the baby to move down the birth canal. Doctors give pitocin to the patients in order to induce labor pains in cases where labor is delayed or if the contractions experienced by the mother are not strong enough. The use of pitocin is becoming common in the United States birthing community, so it is essential for expecting mothers to know the benefits and drawbacks of pitocin.

What Is Pitocin?

A hormone commonly used to induce or continue labor pains or even control the bleeding after labor is known as pitocin. Occasionally it is also used to trigger the milk secretion for breast feeding. It may also be used for other health conditions based on the advice of the doctor.

Inducing labor through pitocin is not advised unless there is some specific medical reason behind it. It is essential to thoroughly discuss with the doctor before taking pitocin. Pitocin is only available to patients with a doctor’s prescription.


Through the use of intravenous injections with a dosage of 0.5 to 1 milliunit/minute, labor pains can be induced. The dosage is then gradually increased by a unit of 1 to 2 milliunits/minute after every 15 to 60 minutes till a pattern of normal contractions is observed.

Who Needs Pitocin?

The three general occasions when induction of labor may be necessary for an expecting mother are mentioned below:

  • The induction may be necessary if the delivery does not occur when the 42 weeks are almost over.
  • In a situation when augmentation is required because the membrane is broken, but contractions do not start.
  • In a case when the use of an epidural slows down the process of labor and requires induction to help resume the contractions.

What Should You Ask Before Receiving Pitocin?

Pitocin is not advised for expecting mothers that may have an allergic reaction upon taking oxytocin (pitocin).

Discuss with the doctor if you have any of the following conditions, to determine whether oxytocin (pitocin) is safe for you to use:

  • Genital herpes
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • A heart rhythm disorder
  • Cervical cancer in the family
  • Uterus infections in the past or in your family
  • Labour problems associated with small pelvis
  • Previous C-sections or any surgeries of the cervix or uterus
  • The term of your pregnancy is less than 37 weeks
  • You have had more than five pregnancies

What Are the Benefits of Pitocin?

The most commonly used names for the hormone oxytocin are pitocin and syntocinon. This hormone is usually secreted by the pituitary gland to initiate labor or continue labor pains as well as control bleeding once the delivery occurs. When the drug is given to the mother, it also helps to remove the placenta after birth, in case of miscarriage, it helps to shrink the uterus back to original size and also to trigger the flow of milk from the breast for breastfeeding.

The reason why pitocin is often favoured for induction of labor is the ease with which the medicine can be controlled according to the patient requirement at the time of delivery. Other methods of induction which can be used include cervical softening gels; however, they are rather difficult to monitor as compared to the use of pitocin. An obstetrician in Louisiana Dr. Gerard M. DiLeo claims that he often uses the drug to start the labor and once the body starts the normal contractions, he slowly removes the effect of pitocin. Another doctor in Los Angeles, Dr. Tracy Kritz, is also of the same opinion that if used properly when necessary, it is the best possible drug to induce labor.

  • For those women that tend to have a slow, painful labor, pitocin can help to reduce the labor period and save them from a lot of agony.
  • Infections have been greatly cut down when oxytocin is used to induce labor in cases when the water breaks.

What Are the Side Effects of Pitocin?

  • There are chances of rupture of the uterine walls when pitocin is used especially in cases when a vaginal birth is tried after a previous case of cesarean.
  • The fetal may undergo a stress when synthetic oxytocin is used as it can occasionally cause strong contractions. Under such a situation, the health care provider will terminate the drug and examine the fetal state. The baby is put on a monitor to keep an eye out for fetal stress while undergoing synthetic oxytocin for inducing labor.
  • Since pitocin is a comparatively new drug, its long term impacts have not been determined as yet. Some doctors say that synthetic oxytocin can cause problems such as autism and asperger's syndrome.

How Is Pitocin Given During Labor?

  • A complete physical exam. It is performed before augmentation of labour is performed. The contraction pattern along with the dilation of the cervix is observed to check how far the baby is down the birth canal. The response of the baby’s heart in relation to the contractions is observed to analyse whether the baby can handle the stronger contractions.
  • Make a decision. Once the examination is complete, the doctor will decide whether it is feasible to augment the labour using oxytocin. This synthetic form of the hormone, pitocin, if naturally produced by the body, can cause the body to undergo spontaneous labour. However, if it is not produced in the sufficient amount by the body, synthetic forms are used for induction. The level of the drug pitocin is controlled by a pump attached to the IV line which is injected into the mother.
  • Give pitocin. Initially, the dosage is rather small and is gradually increased till the uterus starts responding to the hormone. Depending on how apart the contractions are, the dilation of the cervix, and the term of pregnancy, the dosage of the drug is adjusted. The contractions should be around three to five after every ten minutes.
  • Trigger contractions. The main purpose of oxytocin is to trigger the contractions to the extent that the cervix dilates at the right time so that the baby can be moved down the birth canal and not to the extent that the contractions put stress on the baby which can happen if the contractions are too frequent or too long. Contractions which often last longer than two minutes or five contractions over a thirty minute period is considered to be too long.
  • Monitor contractions. While augmentation occurs, the doctors monitor the contractions and baby on the fetal monitor to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

If you want to know more about pitocin, you can watch the video below: