This month a study was published that links the use of Pitocin during labor to later postpartum depression and anxiety. If you don't know what Pitocin is, it is the brand-name given to a manufactured version of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone, and it plays a huge role in all labor, birth, and breastfeeding.
Today, many women receive this synthetic version of a naturally occurring hormone during labor and after birth. Most commonly, Pitocin is given via IV to:
- Start or speed up a labor (induction and augmentation of labor)
- Prevent or stop postpartum hemorrhage in the mother after birth
The long-term effects of Pitocin on a mother and her child haven't been fully studied, and so it is good to see that some research is being conducted. As doulas, we are often educating our clients about things they may encounter during labor, such as Pitocin, and helping them understand what to expect, and how to gather more information as necessary. Here are some things to know about Pitocin:
The Benefits of Pitocin for Labor
Pitocin is a life-saving drug for childbearing women. It is very useful and effective in preventing and stopping postpartum bleeding and hemorrhage, which can be a life-threatening complication after giving birth. It is also a wonderful tool to use when labor must be started or helped along for various reasons, including when the health or wellbeing of the mother or baby is threatened, and expedited delivery is the safest option. When considering Pitocin, remember that it is not the enemy, but rather a useful and powerful tool that has its place in modern birth.
The Risks of Pitocin for Labor
Pitocin, like all drugs, does have a risk associated with it. Most notably, Pitocin can sometimes cause what are called tetanic contractions, or super strong contractions which the baby or mother may not be able to tolerate. Also, some women feel that contractions brought on by Pitocin are more intense and difficult to tolerate without pain medication. There are, however, ways to minimize these risks and work through labor without medications if desired.
The Link to Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Up until now, the known risks really focused around the delivery itself, and no long-term risks were established. However, based on this study, we know that having Pitocin, or any synthetic oxytocin, administered during labor may increase your risk for postpartum depression and anxiety in the first year after your baby is born.
Knowledge is Power
This is important information to know, not meant to make you feel bad or more scared of Pitocin. Like I mentioned above, Pitocin is an incredibly beneficial drug, and has an important place in the management of labor and delivery.
Knowledge, however, is power. If you know that being exposed to Pitocin may carry this risk, you and your support system after birth can keep a closer eye on your mental health and recovery. Sometimes Pitocin is a vital and necessary tool to use to keep you and baby healthy, and we can also keep an eye on the unintended consequences to make sure that you stay healthy!
Our Postpartum and Infant Care Doulas routinely offer postpartum mood disorder screenings to our clients here in Cincinnati and Dayton. These screenings help evaluate how you are feeling in the weeks and months after your baby is born, and we are able to make a referral when something is outside of the range of normal. Your OB or midwife will also offer this screening at your 6 week appointment, and some pediatricians are also trying to screen mothers at routine well-baby checks too.
If you or your partner do not know the signs of various postpartum mood disorders, be sure to check out this helpful list at Postpartum Progress.