Side Effects of Pitocin, Risks, & Related Birth Injuries

Side Effects of Pitocin, Used to Stimulate Uterine Contractions or Induce Labor

“We need to induce labor”. When a doctor says those words to a pregnant woman, what follows is often a dose of Pitocin, used to stimulate contractions and cause labor induction. While it’s useful for inducing labor, the side effects of Pitocin are many.

And the risks of Pitocin misuse include a host of injuries to both mother and baby. Below, we’ll provide basic information about this drug, including potential side effects and risks. If you would like to discuss a Pitocin-related birth injury and birth injury law with our lawyers, please contact us here.

Pitocin often causes painful contractions.

How is Pitocin Used in the Labor and Delivery Process?

Pitocin is a medication that helps doctors induce labor in pregnant women, or speed up the process. It is an artificial form of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a natural hormone that stimulates the labor process. It plays a key role in stimulating contractions during labor.

Doctors dispense Pitocin through an intravenous (IV) drip. It enters the bloodstream quickly and stimulates contractions. There are two main reasons why doctors might prescribe it:

  • A woman’s labor is not progressing
  • It’s necessary to deliver the baby quickly due to medical complications

What Are the Pitocin Side Effects on Baby & Mother?

Pitocin can be an effective way to induce or speed up labor. But it can also cause unwanted, dangerous side effects. Some side effects of Pitocin may include:

  • Overly intense contractions; that is, stronger and more painful contractions
  • More frequent contractions
  • Changes in fetal heart rate
  • Reduced blood flow to the placenta, which can cause fetal distress
  • Increased risk of uterine rupture or bleeding
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Water retention (causing swelling in the body)
  • Headache
  • Hypotension – Low blood pressure, as opposed to hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Tachysystole – That is, contractions that are too close together. This can cause oxygen deprivation in the baby.
  • Allergic reactions (such as hives, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face, lips, or tongue.)
  • Neonatal jaundice – while not a direct symptom, rapid labor or delivery complications (which can sometimes be associated with Pitocin use) may indirectly affect the risk of neonatal jaundice.
  • Uterine rupture – Excessive use of Pitocin may lead to hyperstimulation of the uterus.

Is there any way to avoid the side effects of Pitocin? Sometimes, but it can be difficult to predict. Healthcare providers must carefully monitor both the mother and baby during Pitocin administration to ensure the safest possible outcome.

What Are the Risks of Pitocin Use/Misuse?

In 2007, the FDA issued a black box warning for Pitocin. This is a warning that the FDA issues for medications when the risks of taking them may outweigh the benefits. 

One of the reasons why doctors should use great care with Pitocin is that everyone responds to it differently. A small dose might have no effect on one woman. But for a different woman, the same dose could cause excessive contractions. 

Some of the most significant risks of Pitocin use include:

Uterine Rupture 

Pitocin can cause contractions to become too strong, which can increase the risk of uterine rupture. This is a serious medical complication. It can cause heavy bleeding and put both the mother’s and baby’s health in danger.

Fetal Distress

Pitocin can make the contractions too strong, and the baby may not tolerate them well. This can change the baby’s heart rate and cause fetal distress. 

Premature Separation of the Placenta

In rare cases, Pitocin can cause the placenta to separate from the uterine wall too soon. This can result in heavy bleeding, endangering both mother and baby.

Postpartum Hemorrhage

Pitocin can increase the risk of postpartum hemorrhage. This is the term for excessive bleeding after delivery.

Neonatal Jaundice

Pitocin can cause the baby’s red blood cells to break down more quickly. This may lead to a higher risk of neonatal jaundice.

Hypoxic-ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)

Pitocin can cause contractions to become too strong, which can result in a more painful or prolonged labor experience for the mother. Prolonged labor can deprive the baby of oxygen. This can lead to birth asphyxia, or HIE.

Other complications and risks of Pitocin include low APGAR scores, infant seizures, brain injuries, and fetal death. An overdose or prolonged use of this drug can also cause maternal stroke and death.

A baby suffers injuries because of Pitocin negligence.

Pitocin & Medical Malpractice 

Pitocin is widely used. But that doesn’t make it 100% safe. In some cases, it’s linked to adverse birth outcomes. The FDA states that doctors should administer it only when absolutely necessary. Before consenting to its use, pregnant women should discuss the risks and side effects of Pitocin with their doctors. 

Misuse of Pitocin is a common factor in many birth injury cases. A doctor may be liable for malpractice when they fail to follow proper guidelines for using Pitocin, resulting in an injury. 

Malpractice cases related to the side effects of Pitocin can result in large payouts. Here are some recent examples our legal team has handled:

  • $4,000,000 verdict for negligent administration of Pitocin. The baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a permanent and debilitating condition. 
  • $4,000,000 for negligent administration of Pitocin, resulting in Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a condition in which a lack of oxygen in the blood causes brain damage. 

If you believe your child was injured from Pitocin misuse, contact Hampton & King. We can help you recover damages so you can give your child the best quality of life possible.