Safety Concerns Cited for Oxytocin (Pitocin) Use During Labor and Delivery

 In August 2007, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices placed Pitocin (oxytocin) on their “High-Alert” drug list. Drugs that appear on this list carry a risk of causing significant harm if they are used in error. Only 11 were on the list at the time that oxytocin was added to it.

Shortly after being named a “High-Alert” drug, the leading obstetrical journal, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (AJOG), released an opinion suggesting that there was a need for greater caution when using oxytocin during labor and delivery. AJOG recommended a “re-evaluation of current practice patterns” and a “change in how oxytocin is administered” in order to ensure patient safety.

Guidelines Established for Pitocin Use

Specifically, AJOG highlighted the need for a “uniform, unambiguous, and pre-established” method for administering Pitocin to patients. They believed this was necessary to avoid “close calls” and ensure patient safety.  AJOG went on to say that oxytocin should be started in patients at low doses, should remain at the lowest levels that produce the appropriate contractions, and that fetal monitoring must occur to track contractions and the baby’s heart rate. Furthermore, a C-Section should be done when oxytocin is not working or causing distress.

Injuries to Mother and Baby Possible with Pitocin

Oxytocin-induced contractions can be longer, more forceful and closer together than a mother’s natural contractions. This allows less time for the mother and baby to recover from the reduced blood flow that occurs during contractions. This can result in less oxygen and blood reaching the baby, potentially causing significant fetal distress and brain injury. Some of the specific injuries associated with improper use of oxytocin include neonatal seizures, retinal hemorrhages, uterine rupture, hyperstimulation, fetal head trauma (including brain hemorrhages) and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (birth asphyxia).

It’s unclear why it took so long for these recommendations to be put in place, given that the dangers of oxytocin had been known for decades. However, this report laid the groundwork for new guidelines potentially preventing hundreds of babies from suffering injuries during labor and delivery due to excessive oxytocin.

If you think your baby was injured as a result of unsafe oxytocin use, contact a skilled birth trauma attorney to discuss your legal options for recovering monetary damages for your child.

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