What is Pitocin?

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  • Written By: Sherry Holetzky
  • Edited By: R. Kayne
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  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2019
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Pitocin® is a synthetically created form of the naturally occurring hormone oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions. When a pregnant mother is overdue, sometimes the obstetrician will induce labor with an intravenous drip of this drug. While it can speed things along, it must be used carefully in a hospital setting and it is not recommended for elective induction. Elective induction simply means induced labor when there is no medical reason for it.

Since this hormone is synthetic, it does not produce exactly the same kind of uterine contractions as its natural counterpart. Many women report longer, stronger contractions that are closer together and sometimes have "double peeks." This may actually mean that contractions are running together, rather peaking and falling like usual. This makes labor move far more quickly, and the baby may be born earlier than expected.

In some cases, the medical professional will turn down the dose of Pitocin® as labor progresses to avoid causing trauma to mother or baby. A break from the strong, continuous contractions also gives the mother a chance to rest a bit before delivery occurs. Occasionally, the drug may cause side effects such as increased pain, the need more or stronger pain medication, or may cause distress to the baby. As with any medication, the patient should disucss these as well as other side effects with her healthcare provider.


For many pregnant women, Pitocin® is considered a lifesaver. After a week of being overdue, many mothers beg to be induced. While some are able to wait patiently until the baby is ready to arrive, others become overwhelmed and seek relief. Any woman who is pregnant should discuss her birthing options, including Pitocin®, with her obstetrician and birth coach. Having done so, everyone will know what to expect if induction becomes necessary later on.


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Post 4

Despite me being outspoken about not wanting Pitocin, my doctor put it in my IV. I had a horrible reaction and it elevated my baby's heart rate and I ended up needing an emergency C-Section. When I had my second baby via C-section (tried for a VBAC to no avail), they put Pitocin in my IV to help my uterus contract back down to normal size. I had a horrible reaction again! I don't recommend it to anyone. For any reason.

Post 3

Pitocin induction is only one use for it. A lot of doctors use Pitocin to speed up labor--maybe mom had an epidural and it slowed down her labor, for instance. Once you start having interventions, you tend to need more and more.

But I would never give birth without Pitocin nearby, because it can be a literal lifesaver. Usually, no Pitocin is needed after delivery; the uterus will tighten up on its own and the afterbirth will follow quickly. Some doctors will give Pitocin routinely after the baby is delivered, so every pregnant woman should discuss with her doctor whether she wants this.

But... sometimes, even after a completely normal labor, the mother will experience a postpartum hemorrhage

. Pitocin is then given to firm the uterus and stop the bleeding--before the mother bleeds to death. It can happen.

State laws vary on whether the certified professional midwives (who are not nurses) who attend most home births can carry and use Pitocin. I urge anyone planning a home birth to discuss this issue with her midwife. Sure, it probably won't happen, but it's life-threatening.

Post 2

@anon70702 - I do see the contradiction, but the contradiction isn't just in the article--it's in the medical community. ACOG, the professional group of OB/GYNs, does not recommend elective induction with pitocin or any other method. But many doctors practice their own way and do't always follow ACOG's recommendations. Some doctors will induce without medical reason, maybe because mom is uncomfortable, doc is going on vacation, etc.

There are good medical reasons for induction. Going over 42 weeks is considered dangerous, and induction might be necessary sooner if, for instance, the baby has low levels of amniotic fluid or there are other signs of postmaturity. If you are less than 42 weeks and your doctor talks about induction, you might want to ask for a BPP, biophysical profile. That will check to see if baby is healthy in there (it's basically a nonstress test plus an ultrasound) and whether you can wait a little longer.

Post 1

When you say "it is not recommended for elective induction", and then go on with saying that for some women Pitocin is a "lifesaver", insinuating that these women can't take being pregnant any longer and choose to be induced, or talked into induction. Isn't that a big contradiction?

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