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For some pregnant women, labor and delivery can be prolonged, difficult, and long overdue. When this happens, many doctors recommend that women take Pitocin to induce labor. According to a 2020 study, around 50% of women experiencing labor in the U.S. are dosed with Pitocin to stimulate contractions and control postpartum bleeding.

Pitocin is administered to induce or augment labor, aiming to mimic the body’s organic process. However, its widespread use has raised concerns.

In this blog, we’ll explore those concerns, including the potential risks Pitocin can pose to mothers and their unborn children during labor.

What Is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin, a natural hormone that plays a crucial role in childbirth. Oxytocin is responsible for stimulating uterine contractions during labor, facilitating the birthing process. Mimicking this natural hormone, Pitocin is administered to induce labor in women who are overdue, to accelerate labor that is progressing too slowly, or to strengthen contractions when necessary for the health of the mother or baby.

Its administration allows for the controlled management of labor, ensuring that contractions are sufficiently strong and frequent to advance labor towards delivery. However, the use of Pitocin must be carefully monitored due to the significant potential risks it poses to both mother and baby, including increased pain, risk of uterine hyperstimulation, and possible adverse effects on the baby’s health.

What Are the Risks of Pitocin?

The use of Pitocin, while beneficial in certain scenarios, is not without risks, which are too often understated or ignored by healthcare providers. It’s important to understand these potential dangers to ensure the safety and well-being of both mother and child when the drug is administered.

Pitocin is one of only twelve (12) High Alert medications commonly used in this country: it is well-known that “errors that involve IV oxytocin administration during labor are most commonly dose related and often involve a lack of timely recognition and appropriate treatment of tachysystole [a.k.a. excessive uterine activity].” In other words, when women and their babies suffer complications from Pitocin, medical malpractice is often at fault.

According to the FDA mandated Pitocin package insert – the drug’s instructions – overdosing a patient can cause brain damage. That is what happened to our client whose electric fetal monitor strip is shown below.


Opioids like Pitocin are important and necessary drugs, but only when used safely and judiciously. An overdose of Pitocin can predictably result in fetal hypoxia (oxygen deprivation to the infant and a cause of close to one in four neonatal deaths worldwide) and permanent central nervous system (CNS) or brain damage.

Other Injuries to the Mother

Additional risks for mothers include:

  • Increased Pain: Pitocin can intensify labor contractions, leading to increased pain and discomfort. This often results in a higher demand for epidural anesthesia, which comes with its own set of risks.
  • Uterine Hyperstimulation: Excessive contraction of the uterus, induced by Pitocin, can lead to uterine hyperstimulation. This condition can reduce the blood flow to the placenta, compromising oxygen delivery to the baby.
  • Risk of Uterine Rupture: Although rare, there is an increased risk of uterine rupture, especially in women who have had previous cesarean sections or uterine surgery.

Other Injuries to the Baby

Additional risks for babies include:

  • Fetal Distress: The augmented contractions can lead to fetal distress, indicated by changes in the heart rate pattern. This can be a sign that the baby is not receiving enough oxygen.
  • Neonatal Jaundice: Studies have suggested a link between the use of Pitocin and an increased risk of neonatal jaundice, a condition that, if severe, can lead to serious complications.
  • Potential for Birth Injuries: The heightened intensity and frequency of contractions can increase the risk of physical trauma during birth, leading to injuries such as brachial plexus injuries or even cerebral palsy in severe cases.

How to Prevent Pitocin-Related Injuries

Healthcare professionals have a duty to meet or exceed “the standard of care,” meaning they must provide the medical treatment that any reasonable healthcare professional would provide in the same situation. When doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers fail to do so, they can be held liable for the harm they cause to their patients, both mother and child.

Pitocin is so well known to be dangerous that most hospitals have policies and procedures in place for how it should be safely administered. But tragically, in case after case, we have seen doctors and nurses ignore hospital policies and procedures.

A device called an intrauterine pressure catheter (IUPC) can help detect and prevent excessive uterine activity once a mother’s water breaks. An IUPC is a catheter that is manually inserted inside the cervix and against the uterus which records the strength, duration, and frequency of uterine contractions and uterine resting tone between contractions. External monitoring is widely considered less reliable than internal monitoring with the IUPC. Here is an example of what an EFHM looks like when there is hyperstimulation or excessive uterine activity.

Per the electric fetal monitor strip above, we see a variety of contractions that are either too close together (less than one minute apart), last too long (longer than two minutes), or are too intense with insufficient resting tone between contractions greater than 25 mmHg.

To avoid injuring a baby, you want to see contractions that are more than 60 seconds apart, last less than two minutes long, and have a resting tone below 25mmHg in between contractions.

Who Can Be Held Liable for Pitocin-Related Injuries?

In cases of Pitocin-related injuries to mothers or their babies, determining liability can be difficult. That’s because multiple parties may be involved in the decision to administer it or the actual administering of the drug. Liability largely hinges on establishing negligence or a breach of the standard of care expected in the medical community.

Here are some parties that might be held liable for Pitocin-related injuries:

  • Obstetricians/Gynecologists: These medical professionals are directly involved in making decisions about the use of Pitocin during labor. If an obstetrician or gynecologist fails to use Pitocin appropriately, fails to monitor the mother and baby adequately, or does not respond appropriately to signs of distress, they may be held liable for any resulting injuries.
  • Nursing Staff: Nurses play a crucial role in monitoring the labor progress and the well-being of both the mother and the baby. They are also responsible for administering Pitocin under the direction of a physician. If nurses fail to monitor adequately, administer an incorrect dosage, or fail to report signs of distress to the physician, they could be found liable for negligence.
  • Hospitals: Hospitals can be held liable for systemic failures, such as inadequate staffing, lack of proper protocols for the use and monitoring of Pitocin, or insufficient training of their staff regarding Pitocin administration and labor management. This form of liability, known as institutional negligence, holds the facility accountable for not providing a safe environment conducive to appropriate care.

In any case of Pitocin-related injury, establishing liability requires demonstrating that the standard of care was breached and that this breach directly caused harm. This involves a thorough review of medical records, expert testimony, and a deep understanding of obstetric practices and protocols.

Pitocin Injury? Contact Our Chicago Birth Injury Attorneys.

Pitocin is an important drug, and it can reduce the risk of complications and even save babies’ lives when labor is excessively prolonged or delayed. However, it can pose serious risks of its own, especially when it’s not administered properly or safely.

If you or your baby were harmed by Pitocin, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your damages. Contact the Chicago birth injury lawyers at Beam Legal Team today for a free case review. We’ll work hard to get you maximum compensation, and you won’t owe us anything unless we get money for you.

Categories: Birth Injury,