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Pitocin is great! Or is it?

Pitocin or man-made synthetic oxytocin is being used in more and more births either by IV during birth or a shot after birth. It seems to be a miracle drug to help in inductions, but nobody is talking about if there are any negatives. Is there a cost of Pitocin?

When labor starts naturally, a woman makes oxytocin in her body. It does a variety of wonderful things for her. Oxytocin crosses into the brain and creates a wonderful "intoxication" effect. It calms anxiety (cortisol levels), decreases feelings of fear and pain, increases bonding , and increases positive mood (less depression). This makes birth an experience that you can endure. The contractions are strong to be able to birth the baby, but you also get a so many benefits from oxytocin to give you the lift you need to endure.

This sounds amazing! So, how do we increase oxytocin levels you might wonder? It is stimulated in a variety of ways from sex, the natural onset of labor, skin-to-skin contact, breastfeeding, and more.

Pitocin is the same chemical make up as oxytocin and it should do the same thing, right?

We used to think that was true. Now we know it is different.

First, Pitocin does not cross into the brain which causes a different response in the body. You get a uterus that is contracting, but the rest of the body does not know it is is labor. There is no "intoxication effect" with Pitocin, just contractions.

Second, Pitocin decreases the endorphines (or the feel good hormones) and increase the stress hormones (anxiety). So women on Pitocin don't feel calm, but feel more distressed which brings on an increased level of the cortisol hormone. High levels of cortisol can cause mood swings, higher blood pressure, flushed face, tiredness, slows digestion, lowers the body's ability to fight off infection, increased blood sugar levels, and more

Third, Pitocin also causes contractions unlike natural labor. They are harder stronger more painful contractions for a longer period of time while the oxytocin level in the body remains flat instead or varying like it does in a natural labor. Most mothers then choose an epidural to deal with these harder contractions and no endorphines (feel good hormones). The epidural then presents another complication. It not only blocks the feeling of the contractions, it also blocks the nerves connected with the Fergusson reflex which causes oxytocin release (Jonas et al 2008). So with an epidural and Pitocin, you get a double blocker of the mom's body for making oxytocin.

Lastly, using Pitocin during labor has been linked to postpartum depression. "If a mother received oxytocin, chances are that she had other birth interventions, and higher numbers of birth interventions are associated with increased depressive, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms (Kendall-Tackett, 2017). Mothers may be more prone to depression and anxiety when they received oxytocin because their births had more interventions. In our study of 6,410 new mothers, we found that women who had epidurals had higher depressive symptoms even after controlling for all other birth interventions, history of depression and sexual assault, income, education, and parity (Kendall-Tackett, Cong, & Hale, 2015)."

Wow! Who knew that Pitocin could affect us this way. Maybe many of you reading this wish you had been told about Pitocin effects before you consented to it in your labor.

I do have to note that Pitocin has been a help to many who needed to have labor start due to issues with mom or baby. I also beg us to stop and think if we should use it on every mom or only reserve it for when it is truly needed.

I feel that more research needs to be conducted so fully understand the effects of pitocin. Recently, I did see that researchers are running studies to see what effect Pitocin has long term on the babies whose moms had it during labor. I can't wait to see what they find.

Jonas W, Wiklund I, Nissen E, Ransjö Arvidsson A.B., Uvnäs Moberg K. Influence of oxytocin or epidural analgesia on personality profile in breastfeeding women: a comparative study, Archives of Women's Mental Health 2008, 11, 335-445

Kendall-Tackett, K.A. (2017). Depression in new mothers, 3rd Ed. Abington, UK: Routledge.

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