What is Pitocin?
Pitocin is a synthetic version of the pregnancy hormone oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. This medication is usually used when labor doesn’t begin on its own before the due date or there is a medical (or other) reason for early delivery. Pitocin is given intravenously in a hospital and often quickly leads to contractions that get stronger.
Why is it important?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 23% of births in the United States are due to a cause. There are several methods to induce labor, but in medical settings, one of the most commonly used is the drug Pitocin. In fact, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 63% of employed workers use Pitocin.
The use of Pitocin provides a reliable, safe, medically controlled mode of labor that accelerates the delivery of millions of babies each year.
Use for Pitocin
There are many reasons Pitocin is used to induce labor. One of the main uses of the drug is to treat prolonged, difficult, or obstructed labor (difficult labor), especially when doing so may reduce the rate of cesarean section.
Another common sign is when labor doesn’t start on its own, especially if the mother and/or baby are having any difficulty. Other typical reasons to induce labor include:
- Rh factor complications (this can happen when the mother has a negative blood type but gives birth to a positive blood group)
- Maternal health problems, including diabetes and kidney disease
- Low level of amniotic fluid
- Preeclampsia or high blood pressure
- Membrane rupture (does not initiate labor)
- Fetal growth retardation
- Uterine infection
Labor can also be done proactively to ease pregnancy discomforts in the mother or prevent potential complications. Also, people may choose to use Pitocin due to timing or other issues, such as working on a schedule to make sure a partner (or a specific doctor) can be present at birth.
How is labor created?
Liquid Pitocin is diluted with a standard saline solution and given by intravenous (IV) drip. Pitocin infusions are prescribed on a medication pump to ensure a very specific amount is given.
Carefully adjusting the dosage helps minimize complications and allows your doctor or midwife to mimic normal labor as much as possible.
An IV drip will be set up to deliver a certain amount of Pitocin every hour. Depending on the command written by your practitioner, Pitocin drops are usually increased every hour until you reach a certain contraction pattern. Desired patterns may be different for each woman.
Some practitioners choose to spin the Pitocin up quickly, while others prefer to slow it down. The method used in your case will depend on why you are irritated and other factors specific to your medical needs. The drip rate (and how much you need it) also correlates with how well you and your child respond to the medication.
Increase labor speed
Pitocin can also be used to speed up your labor. This is called increased labor. A 2011 review of studies found that, on average, Pitocin reduced total labor time relatively small (about two hours).
However, even a small reduction in labor can provide significant pain relief. Other methods known to speed up slow labor in addition to or as an alternative to Pitocin include breaking the sac (amniotomy), acupressure, and movement, such as walking and popping a yoga ball.
Some women worry that using Pitocin will lead to more painful labor. However, these concerns are not easily confirmed or refuted because the perception of pain is quite subjective and variable. That said, Pitocin makes contractions stronger, which can translate into stronger pain.
Also, every experience with Pitocin will be different. Some women have no problems with the pill, while others are unhappy with the effect it has on their labor. However, it is difficult to objectively distinguish between the effects of the drug and what might have happened without Pitocin, as this cannot be known.
Your personal experience may also depend on your expectations, how you and your baby react, and how your doctor uses the medicine. Discussing how to manage your labor ahead of time can make it easier for you to adjust if Pitocin is needed.
In some cases, your non-specialized labor plan may be changed if your healthcare provider believes Pitocin is the right choice for you and your baby. Whether or not your birthing experience goes as planned, it helps to have adequate support, such as a partner, family, or doula.
If you are being stimulated with Pitocin, there are some additional safety precautions that may be necessary during your labor and delivery. Your doctor or midwife may recommend any of the following:
As with any drug or intervention, using Pitocin has risks. However, it’s important to note that this medication is generally safe and has a low risk of serious complications. Some possible complications of Pitocin use include:
- Caesarean section (this risk can be reduced with oligohydramnios)
- The contractions are too close together, making labor more difficult
- Worrying about the baby
- More likely to require pain medication, like an epidural
- Uterine rupture
There are also some cases when Pitocin should not be used. Some examples of contraindications include:
- The baby is not in a favorable position for delivery (premature birth) or is in fetal distress (in which case a cesarean section may be necessary).
- You are allergic to Pitocin or any of its ingredients
- You are carrying multiples
- You have a condition that may be affected by medication use, such as high blood pressure (hypertension)
- You have a pregnancy complication, such as placenta previa
- You had a c-section before
- You have been born more than six times
In cases where Pitocin is contraindicated, other methods of stimulation such as intentional rupture of the amniotic sac, waiting for spontaneous labor, or caesarean section may be used.
A very good word
For a variety of reasons, such as enthusiasm for a particular birth plan and/or a drug-free birth, some women may view the use of Pitocin as a failure or disappointment. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Regardless of your plans, labor and delivery rarely go exactly as expected.
Moreover, giving birth including Pitocin is no less beautiful or heroic than a “natural birth” — and the important thing is that the baby will be born in your arms.
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