5 Tips for Avoiding Pitocin in Childbirth

December 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm

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Over seven years ago, I wrote one of the most-shared and viewed (and most controversial) posts on my blog, Pitocin’s Untold Impact. In it, I discussed the potential negative impacts of Pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin used in hospitals to speed or start the childbirth process. There has been a huge rise in labor inductions within the past twenty years. The CDC reported that “the rate of induction of labor more than doubled from 1990 through 2010, from 9.6% to 23.8%.” The year my first baby was born (she is now a teenager), the New York Times reported that “one baby in five is now born after the birth process has been started by a drug.” In 2006, in a study of 5500 low-risk, first-time mothers, 40% were induced and 70% received Pitocin at some point during labor (see Jennifer Block, Pushed, p. 5-6).

Since then, ACOG and a number of other groups—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Nurse Midwives, the American Hospital Association, and the March of Dimes—have worked to sharply reduce early elective deliveries, but far too many women are still being administered Pitocin unnecessarily.

Most women who are administered Pitocin during labor are not told that it could be anything but safe. When something is common, it often is assumed to be harmless. And when a trusted medical professional tells you that he/she is going to give you a medication, most women assume that the intervention must be safe and necessary. Unfortunately, these decisions are often associated more with hospital culture, routine, or doctor convenience. This excerpt from a Kansas City news article is eye-opening:

When the Leapfrog Group began reporting hospitals’ early elective delivery rates in 2010, . . . “Some hospitals were shocked at their own rates,” Binder said. At one hospital with a rate of 35 percent, she recalled, the chief of obstetrics asked, “What were we thinking?”

Sometimes doctors and hospitals can get into harmful routines and habits without really realizing it, and unfortunately, it is women and babies who suffer the consequences.

I’m not here to make anyone feel guilty. We are all doing the best we can with the circumstances given to us. Sometimes life hands us circumstances that require medical intervention. I’ve had to take a medication during my last two pregnancies that could potentially harm my babies. We all do what we have to do, and all we can do is hope for the best.

 

Why would it be important to reduce Pitocin use? 

  • Pitocin is not approved by the FDA for elective (patient or provider convenience) inductions or elective stimulation of labor (moving things along).
  • Pitocin generally produces contractions that are much longer, more intense, and more painful than normal contractions. These intense contractions can abnormally restrict oxygen supply to the fetus. This decrease in oxygen can lead to fetal distress and, when prolonged, emergency C-section.
  • Pitocin has the potential of causing tetanic contractions—contractions coming so frequently that they merge into one sustained contraction. Tetanic contractions can result in premature separation of the placenta, uterine rupture, cervical tearing, excessive bleeding postpartum, as well as severely restricting oxygen supply to the fetus.
  • Women who are induced or have their labors augmented with Pitocin have an increased risk of experiencing postpartum hemorrhage (See HERE).
  • Pitocin exposure has been associated with an increase in postpartum depression and anxiety in mothers (See HERE).
  • A 2016 study found a significant association between Pitocin exposure and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnoses. The study also found a “synergistic effect between administrations of L&D drugs and experiencing a birth complication, in which both obstetrics factors occurring together increased the likelihood of the fetus developing ASD later in life” (Source).
  • Pitocin has a long and disturbing list of possible side-effects.
  • Hungarian researcher Dr. Gregory Saba believes that the oxytocin receptors of Pitocin-exposed infants can be significantly impaired, perhaps leading to future emotional and behavioral challenges (See HERE). Michel Odent, MD, agrees (See HERE).

 

So what can mothers do to avoid being induced or having their labors augmented with Pitocin?

 

1) Choose a care provider with low intervention rates. 

This is absolutely the most important thing you can do to avoid unnecessary exposure to Pitocin. Before you decide to hire a doctor or midwife, find out his/her philosophy on labor induction and augmentation. Ask probing questions about the frequency of these interventions among their clients. If the doctor/midwife becomes defensive or flustered, take it as your cue to walk out the door and far away. If a care provider isn’t informed enough to understand why you would want to avoid Pitocin, you definitely don’t want that care provider overseeing your pregnancy and birth.

One care provider guaranteed to improve your birth experience is a doula. A doula is a professional who provides emotional and physical support to women in childbirth (but no medical advice or procedures). American Pregnancy Association reports: “Studies have shown that having a doula as a member of the birth team decreases the overall cesarean rate by 50%, the length of labor by 25%, the use of oxytocin by 40%, and requests for an epidural by 60%.” A doula doesn’t replace your doctor, midwife, nurse, or husband. Doulas simply provide additional support, and they do it very well.

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2) Stay active during your pregnancy. 

As long as you aren’t instructed to avoid exercise by your care provider, exercise is one of the best things you can do for your own health and the health of your baby. Years ago I read the book, Exercising Through Your Pregnancy, by James F. Clapp M.D. In it he shared the remarkable benefits of prenatal exercise, including these results among the women he had studied:

  • 75% decrease in the incidence of maternal exhaustion
  • 50% decrease in the need to artificially rupture membranes
  • 50% decrease in the need to induce or augment labor with Pitocin
  • 50% decrease in the need to intervene because of abnormalities in the fetal heart rate
  • More than 65% of the exercising women delivered in less than four hours
  • 72% delivered before their due date (but not preterm)
  • Much lower incidence of fetus passing meconium from distress
  • Umbilical cord blood samples indicated that babies of exercising moms remained relatively stress-free with plenty of oxygen

My pregnancies and births in which I was regularly exercising were, by far, the smoothest and easiest. My fourth birth was actually near-painless. This is something I definitely need to improve in my current (6th) pregnancy!

 

 3) Nourish your body with labor-easing foods in late-pregnancy.

None of these foods is going to “start” labor if your body is not ready, but they will likely help your body and your baby to prepare for labor. Some foods to try:

  • Red Raspberry Leaf Tea.  Some of the research-back benefits, include toning pelvic and uterine muscles, reducing both preterm and overdue births, decreasing time spent in labor, and reducing need for interventions in childbirth (Source).
  • Dates.study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology found that eating 6 dates daily during the last four weeks of pregnancy significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labor.” Additionally, 96% of the women who ate dates went into labor on their own, and the first stage of labor was almost 7 hours shorter in the date-eating mothers (More info HERE).
  • Pomegranate Seeds and JuiceResearch has shown promise for the use of pomegranate seed extract as a stimulant of uterine contractions.  It could prove especially helpful in aiding prolonged labors and/or reducing blood loss caused by uterine atony (Source). Pomegranate juice (when consumed by pregnant mothers) has been shown to protect infants from brain injuries caused by low oxygen and reduced blood flow (Source).
  • Blackstrap Molasses. Blackstrap molasses contains several important vitamins and minerals, such as iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium. Being an excellent source of both calcium and magnesium, blackstrap molasses is great way to optimize muscle performance (the uterus is a muscle!). Five tablespoons of blackstrap molasses provides 95% of the daily value of iron, an important nutrient for avoiding postpartum hemorrhage.

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4) Keep the lights low during childbirth.

Research indicates that melatonin synergizes with oxytocin to produce forceful uterine contractions. Our bodies increase production of melatonin in darkness. Daylight and artificial light reduce melatonin production. Melatonin production will also be inhibited by cortisol—the stress hormone. Reducing stress and increasing relaxation would likely also facilitate the melatonin-oxytocin synergy. Other ways to increase melatonin production include getting sufficient sunlight during daytime hours, meditation, and calcium and magnesium. Turn off the lights! Get to a comfortable place. Do whatever you can to relax and get into a sleep-like meditative state.

 

5) Stay upright and active during childbirth. 

The Journal of Perinatal Education published an evidence-based review of scientific literature in 2014, finding that “Women who use upright positions and are mobile during labor have shorter labors, receive less intervention, report less severe pain, and describe more satisfaction with their childbirth experience than women in recumbent [lying-down] positions.” Recently I’ve seen several YouTube videos of women dancing in labor. I love it! Here’s one:

 

Do you have other tips for avoiding Pitocin? Please share them in the comments!