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Pitocin, a liquid drug that is used to induce labor, is very powerful and also grossly overused in many countries. Pitocin is an artificial version of the hormone oxytocin, which brings on labor contractions and will either speed up a woman's existing labor, or get labor going. Because labor induction does carry risks, it is important to limit its use to situations in which labor induction is medically warranted. What are the medical indications for induction with Pitocin?

  • Dangerous pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, where it is a risk for mother and baby if the baby is not delivered right away, are a no-brainer. Alternatives to induction may include a c-section at this point.
  • In situations where a woman's pregnancy has gone on for longer than 42 weeks, called a post-term pregnancy, the incidence of stillbirth goes up. A post-dates pregnancy is a good medical reason for induction.
  • When a woman's waters have broken, but labor contractions have not followed, there is a risk of infection. In this case, Pitocin is often the drug of choice.
  • Women whose labors had already started but then slowed down could be good candidates for Pitocin, especially if fetal monitoring has shown that there are signs of fetal distress.
  • Retained placenta means that a placenta does not deliver on its own following the birth of the baby. In these cases, Pitocin may be used to encourage the speedy delivery of the placenta. Studies have shown no negative effects of active management of the third stage of labor with Pitocin.

This is not an exhaustive list, and if your doctor proposes induction of labor with Pitocin, other drugs, or through means like stripping or rupturing membranes, it is something to be seriously considered. Being close to your due date, being a few days past your due date, or inducing for you or your doctor's personal convenience are obviously not medical reasons to induce. See the results of a new study in Is it time to rethink what "full term pregnancy" means? for more information about this.

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