Induction of labor typically refers to the procedure whereby which uterine contractions are stimulated by the administration of the Oxytocin hormone prior to otherwise spontaneous onset of labor, with the goal of achieving a safe vaginal delivery of the baby.
Pitocin/Oxytocin is the only pharmacologic agent approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for the induction of labor for a living baby.
Pitocin/Oxytocin is typically administered through an intravenous infusion with the goal of increasing uterine activity which will result in cervical dilatation and the descent of the baby through the mother’s birth canal.
It has long been recognized that an individual patient’s response to Pitocin/Oxytocin is widely variable. Accordingly, most safe and careful health care providers will use gradually increasing doses of Pitocin/Oxytocin while closely monitoring the status of the baby and the uterine contraction pattern through the use of continuous electronic fetal heart monitoring.
The injudicious use of excessive doses of Pitocon/Oxytocin can have potentially dire consequences for both mother and baby.
One widely recognized side effect of the improper use of Pitocin/Oxytocin is that of uterine hyperstimulation. When uterine hyperstimulation occurs as a result of the excessive use of Pitocin/Oxytocin, the uterine muscles will contract too frequently or otherwise will not relax between contractions.
Uterine hyperstimulation can result in a decrease in the perfusion of oxygenated blood from the mother’s placenta to the baby, thereby exposing the baby to the risk of hypoxia and acidosis.
Another particularly grave risk associated with uterine hyperstimulation resulting from the careless use of Pitocin/Oxytocin is that of uterine rupture.
Uterine rupture is a potentially life threatening condition for both mother and baby and typically occurs when the excessive forces and stresses of hyperstimulated uterine contractions cause the uterus to tear open, potentially expelling the unborn baby into the mother’s abdomen.
When a uterine rupture occurs as a result of the careless use of Pitocin/Oxytocin, maternal or fetal death or fetal asphyxia with associated long-term neurologic impairment of the baby are common consequences, particularly in those cases where medical personnel fail to appreciate the risk of uterine rupture during a Pitocin/Oxytocin induction of labor.
When uterine hyperstimulation occurs during a Pitocin/Oxytocin induction, safe and careful obstetricians and obstetrical nurses will immediately decrease or totally stop the Pitocin/Oxytocin dosing. Oxygen and intravenous fluids may also be administered to the mother and a thorough assessment of the baby’s status will be made.
If, after an attempted induction through the use of Pitocin/Oxytocin, cervical change and/or descent of the baby does not occur, a safe and careful obstetrician will typically deliver the baby via cesarean section.
Attempts to continue a Pitocin/Oxytocin induction in the face of either an arrest of cervical dilatation or an arrest of the descent of the baby can frequently result in potentially devastating injuries to the baby, including cerebral palsy and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.
The Law Firm of Dugan, Babij, Tolley & Kohler, LLC has extensive experience in representing families whose loved ones have died or been injured as a result of medical malpractice associated with the Pitocin/Oxytocin induction of labor.