Is Pitocin Responsible for My Child’s Birth Injury?


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In a perfect world, a baby's birth would happen at the ideal time in their development, and mothers would be able to deliver their babies safely and easily with minimal medical intervention. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. In some instances, a woman does not go into spontaneous labor when the baby's ready and needs to be induced. Sometimes, an earlier induction of labor may be needed for the health of the mother. Some women labor for hours without any progress toward the birth of their baby. When this happens, mom might need a little help strengthening her contractions to keep things moving along.

What Is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes uterine contractions during labor and delivery. This same chemical is also responsible for contracting the uterus after delivering a baby to prevent postpartum hemorrhage. In a medical setting, Pitocin is given by IV and is used to start labor, help labor progress more quickly, or reduce excessive bleeding after giving birth.

As with any medication, Pitocin should only be used when the benefits outweigh the potential risks. Some common situations that might make Pitocin necessary include:

Complications to the mother's health:

  • gestational diabetes
  • preeclampsia
  • excessive bleeding after childbirth

Complications to the baby's health:

  • fetal distress due to labor that's not progressing
  • premature rupture of membranes (when mom's "water breaks" without going into labor)
  • an Rh blood type compatibility problem between mother and baby
  • a pregnancy that goes beyond 42 weeks (the placenta may not work as well after this point)
  • the baby isn't growing or doesn't have enough amniotic fluid

How Can Pitocin Be Misused?

While Pitocin can (and should) be used to save lives, it also has a "black box" warning from the FDA, which indicates that it has serious and potentially life-threatening risks. This warning states that Pitocin should never be used for elective inductions or inductions without a true medical need. In these situations, the risk of death or serious injury outweighs any benefits of a more "convenient" birth.

The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that Pitocin be used in small doses with careful fetal monitoring. Once contractions are considered adequate, Pitocin administration should be stopped until it's been shown that labor cannot progress without it. In addition, the FDA recommends that patients who are given Pitocin should remain under continuous observation by personnel who have a thorough knowledge of the drug and are qualified to identify complications.

These three rules seem easy enough to follow - only use when medically necessary, use small doses for a short time, and monitor mother and child closely. Unfortunately, however, these simple rules are willfully ignored by doctors and nurses time and time again, making Pitocin errors and misuse all too common. While Pitocin misuse doesn't always cause serious problems, and most mothers go on to deliver healthy babies, others are not so lucky.

Additionally, errors involving Pitocin mix-ups (accidentally giving the wrong drug) can happen in various ways. Two of the most common medication errors involve drug vials that look alike and drug names that look or sound similar, such as confusing Pitocin with Pitressin or oxytocin with oxycodone or Oxycontin. Errors like these are easily avoided with proper barcode scanning and independent double-checks of the name of the drug prescribed, but those steps are sometimes skipped when doctors or nurses are busy.

What Happens When Pitocin Is Misused?

When Pitocin is used at a high dose or for a more extended period than is medically necessary, it can result in contractions that are too strong and come on too fast without giving the uterus any time to relax and recover. This can result in severe problems for the mother and can take a particularly devastating toll on the baby being born. When the uterine contractions are too powerful, they can squeeze the life out of an infant. 

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

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

The mother can also experience severe side effects from Pitocin misuse, such as:

  • uterine rupture
  • stroke
  • water intoxication (also called "water poisoning")
  • fluid in the lungs
  • excessive bleeding after birth
  • heart arrhythmia
  • seizure
  • death

These issues are why the mother and baby need to be closely and constantly monitored whenever Pitocin is involved. It's also recommended that a doctor who can perform a C-section be readily available in case of complications.

The effect that Pitocin has on an expectant mother has been well documented. However, surprisingly few studies have been done about Pitocin's effect on babies, even when used correctly. Some studies have shown that any amount of Pitocin increases the risk of babies being born with a lower Apgar score, requiring admission to the NICU (an Apgar score is an assessment of the baby's overall health). While this study could not confirm cause and effect, it emphasizes the importance of carefully monitoring the baby and the mother whenever Pitocin is used.

While information like this is enough to steer any pregnant mother away from Pitocin, there are situations where it's necessary. When labor stops progressing, some sort of intervention MUST occur, or both the mother and the baby could die. If labor is being induced for a valid medical reason (when not inducing could be dangerous for mother or baby), Pitocin use is indicated and appropriate. However, if a doctor is anxious to leave the hospital and starts Pitocin to accelerate the timeline of labor, that is inappropriate. These are clear-cut examples, but there are plenty of times that Pitocin is used for "gray zone" indications. The bottom line is, if Pitocin is recommended, a patient has every right to ask why, learn what the signs are, and find out if there are any other reasonable options.

I Was Given Pitocin, And My Child Suffered A Birth Injury. Is It Malpractice?

While not every complication or poor medical outcome results from a doctor's negligence, it's essential to get a second opinion if anything goes wrong after a medical intervention. If you or your child were seriously injured after being given Pitocin, then you may be entitled to compensation. Find a qualified attorney to see what your options are, but don't delay. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have strict time limits regarding how long you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit after an injury. 

Why Choose Ross Feller Casey?

The legal team at Ross Feller Casey has what it takes to get you the justice you deserve. Our attorneys have an unmatched record of success litigating serious birth injury lawsuits, including numerous multimillion-dollar recoveries in cases involving the misuse of Pitocin.

We have a team of highly skilled doctor-lawyers on staff, so we understand that birth-related injuries can be complex and can have life-long consequences. There's never a fee unless you win, so contact us today for a free consultation.

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.