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5 Ways Pitocin is Different than Oxytocin

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Updated July 17, 2014

This newborn baby is bonding with his mother after a home water birth.

This newborn baby is bonding with his mother after a home water birth.

Photo © iStockPhoto

The numbers of inductions of labor using artificial means like Pitocin and other medications has gone up dramatically in the last few years. A hospital in my area says that 90 of the women have their labors induced. Since science shows us that inducing labor can increase the numbers of complications in the labor and with the baby, you might be surprised to note that many of the inductions are not for medical reasons, but rather reasons of convenience, practitioner or mother, known as social induction.

One of the things that women tell me is that they are lead to believe that induction is completely safe and relatively easy, after all, Pitocin is just another form of the body's own oxytocin, right?

While this statement is generally true, artificially created hormones, including Pitocin do not act identically to the hormones in ones body. For example, in pregnancy both the mother and the baby produce oxytocin. The oxytocin produced by each reacts differently in the body because they each have separate jobs.

Here are five things that you may not know about Pitocin and how it can effect your labor:

  • Pitocin is released differently.
    Oxytocin is released into your body in a pulsing action. It comes intermittently to allow your body a break. Pitocin is given in an IV in a continuous manner. This can cause contractions to be longer and stronger than your baby or placenta can handle, depriving your baby of oxygen.

  • Pitocin prevents your body from offering endorphins.
    When you are in labor naturally, your body responds to the contractions and oxytocin with the release of endorphins, a morphine like substance that helps prevent and counteract pain. When you receive Pitocin, your body does not know to release the endorphins, despite the fact that you are in pain.

  • Pitocin isn't as effective at dilating the cervix.
    When the baby releases oxytocin it works really well on the uterine muscle, causing the cervix to dilate. Pitocin works much more slowly and with less effect, meaning it takes more Pitocin to work.

  • Pitocin lacks a peak at birth.
    In natural labor, the body provides a spike in oxytocin at the birth, stimulating the fetal ejection reflex, allowing for a faster and easier birth. Pitocin is regulated by a pump and not able to offer this boost at the end.

  • Pitocin can interfere with bonding.
    When the body releases oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, it promotes bonding with the baby after birth. Pitocin interferes with the internal release of oxytocin, which can disturb the bonding process.

Your body's own natural oxytocin is superior in many ways to Pitocin. There are also ways to increase the release of this natural oxytocin including skin-to-skin contact, lovemaking, breastfeeding, and others.

So, if you are presented with the option of an induction of labor, you might want to ask your provider about whether or not it is being done for a medical reason or if it's something that a bit of time and patience will help alleviate.

Sources:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG]. (2004). ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 55: Management of postterm pregnancy. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 104(3), 639-646.

Glantz, J. C. (2005). Elective induction vs. spontaneous labor associations and outcomes. Journal of Reproductive Medicine, 50(4), 235-240.

Kramer, M. S., Rouleau, J., Baskett, T. F., & Joseph, K. S. (2006). Amniotic-fluid embolism and medical induction of labor: A retrospective, population-based cohort study. The Lancet, 368(9545), 1444-1448.

Leaphart, W. L., Meyer, M. C., & Capeless, E. L. (1997). Labor induction with a prenatal diagnosis of fetal macrosomia. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, 6(2), 99-102.

March of Dimes. (2006). If you’re pregnant: Induction by request. Retrieved May 15, 2007, from www.marchofdimes.com/prematurity/21239_20203.asp

Sanchez-Ramos, L., Bernstein, S., & Kaunitz, A. M. (2002). Expectant management versus labor induction for suspected fetal macrosomia: A systematic review. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 100(5), 997-1002.

Vahratian, A., Zhang, J., Troendle, J. F., Sciscione, A. C., & Hoffman, M. K. (2005). Labor progression and risk of cesarean delivery in electively induced nulliparas. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 105(4), 698-704.

Vrouenraets, F. P., Roumen, F. J., Dehing, C. J., van den Akker, E. S., Aarts, M. J., & Scheve, E. J. (2005). Bishop score and risk of cesarean delivery after induction of labor in nulliparous women. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 105(4), 690-697.

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