Is Pitocin Overuse Considered Medical Malpractice?


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Pitocin is a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin that forces the uterus to contract and the cervix to dilate. While women typically produce oxytocin naturally during labor, the artificial form is sometimes necessary to help initiate or speed up the process of childbirth. An estimated third, and possibly up to half, of all women who go into labor are given Pitocin at some point. Pitocin is typically very safe and effective if given only when medically necessary and under close supervision. However, Pitocin can be extremely dangerous if used at the wrong time or without proper monitoring.

When Is Pitocin Indicated?

If labor is slowing down or seems to have stalled, Pitocin can help to get things back on track. If labor hasn’t started on its own but delivery of the baby is medically necessary (typically due to concerns with the baby or mother's health), Pitocin can help a woman deliver her child without needing a C-section.

When Should Pitocin Be Avoided Or Stopped?

When Pitocin is given, a woman’s contractions become longer and more intense. That’s good if contractions are beginning to slow or lose strength, but longer and more intense contractions can sometimes cause fetal distress. Because of this, women receiving Pitocin require more careful monitoring than women laboring without medical interventions. If healthcare providers notice any signs of distress or see that contractions are becoming too fast or too strong, then Pitocin should be stopped or adjusted.

Pitocin should not be used for elective induction of labor (when early delivery is not medically necessary) because the potential risks outweigh any benefits of a more “convenient” birth. Pitocin also has several medical contraindications, and in these instances should not be started or should be immediately stopped:

  • if the baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis
  • an undeliverable fetal position, such as transverse (sideways)
  • emergencies where the baby or mother would benefit from surgical intervention
  • fetal distress where delivery is not imminent
  • hypertonic (too strong and too fast) uterine contractions
  • hypersensitivity to the drug, where a standard dose causes an unusually strong reaction
  • prolonged use if contractions remain weak or irregular
  • when vaginal delivery is unsafe to attempt

What Can Happen If Pitocin Is Given Or Monitored Improperly?

The results can be catastrophic if Pitocin is given when it should have been stopped or avoided entirely. If contractions are too strong and/or too close together, the blood supply and oxygen to the baby can be decreased to the point of brain damage or death. Contractions can also become so strong that they actually rupture the uterus, which can be life-threatening for both mom and baby. If given for too long without restricting water intake, Pitocin can cause water intoxication, also known as water poisoning, which can be deadly for the mother. Because of these (and other) potential risks, careful monitoring is required when giving Pitocin.

The potential consequences for a baby when Pitocin is misused include:

  • brain damage
  • cerebral palsy
  • decreased heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • death

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

Medical malpractice, particularly when it involves a child's life, can cause a lifetime of pain and suffering. You may be entitled to compensation if you or a loved one has suffered complications after being given Pitocin.

The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has an unmatched track record of success in medical malpractice and birth injury cases. Over the last five years alone, our team has recovered more than $1 billion for our clients in verdicts and settlements, and we’ve won more multi-million dollar birth injury lawsuits than any other law firm in Pennsylvania.

Contact us today for a free consultation. We handle all our cases, including Pitocin malpractice lawsuits, on a contingency basis, so you will never pay a thing until a financial recovery is made in your case.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.