Pitocin is a drug that is used to induce labor and increase the frequency and strength of contractions during childbirth. Unfortunately, new research indicates that Pitocin-induced contractions can decrease oxygen delivered to the baby, potentially causing severe head trauma, brain damage, or intellectual disability.
State of Iowa pays woman $3.75 million to settle Pitocin birth injury lawsuit. The lawsuit was brought by Martha Fountain, who alleges that the hospital was negligent because they gave her Pitocin without determining that there was a medically necessary reason to give her the drug. Ms. Fountain suffered excessive contractions through 28 hours of labor. When she delivered her child, he had severe head trauma, brain damage, and permanent intellectual disability.
Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, a substance that is naturally produced by a woman’s body to stimulate uterine contractions. These initial contractions help position the baby for delivery. Increased bursts of oxytocin gradually stimulate contractions that become stronger and more frequent, until the baby is delivered.
Pitocin is used to artificially start labor and stimulate stronger, faster labor contractions. It is administered intravenously, and women receive a continuous drip of the drug (unlike the bursts of oxytocin that naturally occur during contractions). Pitocin-induced contractions are not the same as natural contractions.
When Pitocin is given at the proper time during delivery, it can speed up delivery. This is why many hospitals routinely administer Pitocin, despite the fact that its safety is still uncertain.
What is the problem with Pitocin?
Pitocin can present hazards to a mother and her baby. In most cases, Pitocin speeds up delivery. However, in some cases, Pitocin can dramatically extend the duration of labor. If Pitocin is administered at the improper time during labor, it can hyper-stimulate the uterus. This causes contractions that are longer and more painful. There is also less time between contractions, which decreases the recovery time for the mother and her baby.
For the mother, potential hazards of a Pitocin include hemorrhage, cervical laceration, uterine rupture, or premature separation of the placenta. For the baby, hazards include asphyxiation and hypoxia — complications that occur due to a lack of oxygen during contractions. If oxygen deprivation is prolonged, severe brain damage can occur.
These hazards are why the FDA contraindicates Pitocin during the following scenarios:
- When normal uterine activity fails to achieve satisfactory progress
- During fetal distress when delivery is not imminent
- Cephalopelvic disproportion (when the fetus’s head circumference is greater than the mother’s pelvic opening)
- Abnormal position of the fetus
- Previous Caesarian delivery
- Premature delivery
- Other high-risk birth scenarios
Pitocin Birth Injury
Because every woman’s body is unique, a health care professional must continually monitor and adjust the dosage of Pitocin. If the contractions are too weak or infrequent, the baby will not be delivered. If the contractions are too strong, the baby or the mother can be severely injured.
Serious injury can occur when Pitocin is given at the wrong time, too much Pitocin is used, physicians fail to monitor and/or adjust dosage, or doctors fail to respond to fetal distress in a timely manner.
Pitocin birth injuries may include, but are not limited to:
- Uterine rupture
- Fetal distress due to lack of oxygen
- Decreased fetal heart rate
- Cerebral palsy
- Brain damage
- Fetal death, stillbirth
- Maternal hemorrhage