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Study: Pitocin Use Doesn’t Help Avoid C-Sections


Several hours into middle-of-the-night labor with my first son, I gave into the nurses’ offers of pain relief and accepted an epidural. Shortly after that, I was more comfortable but my contractions had subsided, leading to my doctor ordering a round of Pitocin. Many of those of us who have given birth in a hospital are personally (and reluctantly) familiar with Pitocin, a drug used to move labor along—and often causes contractions to come far more quickly and painfully. A new analysis has found that although Pitocin is a safe and effective way to speed childbirth, it does not reduce the number of c-sections or deliveries via forceps, reports the New York Times.

Pitocin, which is a synthetic version of a naturally produced hormone, oxytocin, is often given when a woman’s labor is thought to be progressing too slowly; the drug increases uterine contractions and was thought to lessen the need for assisted or surgical deliveries. However, a new review of studies done by researchers at Nottingham University Hospitals in England and published online earlier this month in The Cochrane Library found that, compared with no treatment, using Pitocin sped up labor by about two hours—but it did not decrease the number of c-sections or allow more moms to deliver their babies without forceps help. The researchers pooled data from eight randomized studies including over 1,300 low-risk women in the first stage of labor.

Plus: Hospital Bans Elective C-Sections & Inductions

The lead author and an obstetrician at Nottingham University Hospitals, Dr. George J. Bugg, said,  “We need better ways of managing slow progress in labor. It’s a real problem, and the method we’ve relied on for so many years doesn’t actually work.”

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Given the alarms recently sounded about the surge in c-sections over the past several years, I wonder if this analysis could ultimately prove helpful in lowering the number of surgical deliveries. If Pitocin doesn’t help women avoid a c-section, should doctors take a closer look at some of the practices of midwives, who generally encourage women to move around more in labor—both walking and changing positions to help the baby make its way down the birth canal? For example, during my second son’s birth (at home with midwives), when my labor was moving more slowly than they had anticipated, instead of turning to Pitocin to crank things up, they encouraged me to labor in whatever ways felt best—which included reclining in the bathtub, standing up in our hallway, squatting over the floor of our bedroom, sitting on the toilet, and lying in various positions in bed, which is where I ultimately gave birth several hours later.

Did you receive Pitocin during labor? How did it impact your labor and delivery?