If a pregnant woman is past her due date and has not started labor on her own, or if her labor is not progressing as expected, medical interventions may sometimes be necessary to help the delivery process. One common way to induce labor or to help the labor progress is for a doctor to administer a medication called Pitocin. This drug stimulates hormones to induce labor and speed up contractions. It can help encourage labor that is not progressing appropriately and avoid complications for the mother and the baby. 

However, when medical teams are negligent in administering the drug, Pitocin can harm the mother and even cause birth injuries. The most common medical errors associated with Pitocin involve doctors ordering too large a dose or using the drug when it is unnecessary.

What Is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, a natural hormone the body releases during labor to cause the uterus to contract. Pitocin mimics the effects of oxytocin, increasing the frequency of contractions.

Medical providers typically use Pitocin to induce labor when a baby is overdue and to stimulate contractions when labor does not occur fast enough. The drug can be safe and effective when used carefully with consistent monitoring throughout the delivery process. It can help women achieve a vaginal birth and avoid a C-section.  

When Is It Necessary to Induce Labor?

While not appropriate for all pregnancies, inducing labor is sometimes necessary. It may be necessary when a pregnancy is well beyond the due date, there are complications, or the mother or baby’s health is at risk. Doctors must consider many factors to determine whether labor induction is necessary, such as the baby’s size and how far the pregnancy has progressed. Other common factors supporting labor induction include:

  • High blood pressure.
  • Gestational diabetes.
  • Low birth weight.
  • Placenta detachment.
  • Uterus infection.
  • Low amounts of amniotic fluid.

Using Pitocin to induce labor can have serious side effects, so doctors must weigh the potential risks against the possible benefits. 

Pitocin and Birth Injury Risks

When a mother receives Pitocin, a fetal heart monitor should be used to track her contractions and the baby’s heart rate. Doctors and hospital staff must follow strict medical guidelines when administering Pitocin.

The drug should be started at very low doses with careful and continuous fetal stress monitoring. It should only be administered if necessary. For example, if labor is still not progressing as desired even after Pitocin has triggered a normal contraction pattern, doctors should perform a C-section delivery instead of administering more medication. It should never be given just because the doctor wants to speed up the delivery.   

Pitocin-related errors such as improper monitoring or giving too high of a dosage too quickly can cause serious harm to the baby. The drug can result in hyperstimulation and fetal distress, which increases the risk of birth injuries and permanent damage such as:

When medical professionals use too high of a Pitocin dose, administer the drug in the wrong situation, or fail to monitor the mother properly, she can suffer dangerous side effects that range from uterine rupture to even death. In such cases, the medical team is responsible for acting fast to avoid further complications, such as ordering a timely C-section.

What Is Hyperstimulation?

An underlying danger with Pitocin that accounts for many birth injuries is hyperstimulation. The drug can trigger overly intense or frequent contractions with inadequate rest between contractions. Hyperstimulation hinders blood flow and oxygen delivery to the baby because the placenta does not have enough time to adequately refresh its supply.

Oxygen deprivation during childbirth is extremely dangerous. If the baby does not get enough oxygen, it is at risk of suffering a brain injury that can result in permanent disabilities like cerebral palsy.

Medical interventions may be necessary to ensure the baby is getting enough oxygen. This is one reason proper monitoring of the baby’s heart rate is crucial. Hospital staff should watch for signs of hyperstimulation, be prepared to act, and take appropriate steps when they observe the warning signs.

Weighing the Risks of Pitocin

Pitocin’s effects vary widely from one pregnant woman to another. As a result, medical staff must carefully observe how a mother and baby react to the drug.

While Pitocin can be a safe way to induce labor, it poses risks for both a mother and her baby when not used properly. Many side effects can be managed by properly attentive doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. However, any negligence in administering the drug can have devastating consequences.

If your baby sustained a birth injury related to labor induction or Pitocin errors, reach out to a Michigan birth injury attorney right away. Our team of skilled and compassionate advocates will fight hard on your behalf to help you recover the compensation you deserve for birth injuries and other medical malpractice claims. Contact Sommers Schwartz today for a free, no-obligation consultation.