Pitocin is a synthetic hormone that can help induce labor. Both risks and benefits are associated with Pitocin induction, so speaking with a doctor can help determine if this labor technique is right for you.

If you’ve been looking into labor techniques, you may have heard about Pitocin inductions. There’s a lot to learn about the benefits and drawbacks, and we’re here to guide you through it.

An induction with Pitocin means your doctor or midwife will help start your labor using a medicine called Pitocin, which is a synthetic version of oxytocin.

Oxytocin is the hormone that your body naturally produces to induce contractions, as well as serving as the famous “love” hormone.

Pitocin is delivered through an IV in your arm and your nurse will gradually raise the level of Pitocin you are receiving until you are having regular contractions about every 2 to 3 minutes.

At that point, your Pitocin will either be left on until you deliver, adjusted if your contractions become too strong or fast or taper off, or your healthcare provider may shut off the Pitocin all together.

Sometimes, an initial dose of Pitocin is enough to “kick” your body into going into labor on its own.

No induction will start with Pitocin unless your cervix is favorable. What does that mean? Essentially, a “favorable” cervix is one that’s already gearing up for labor.

If your body is nowhere near ready to have a baby, your cervix will be “closed, thick, and high,” meaning it won’t be dilated or effaced at all. It will also still be facing “backwards.”

As your body preps for labor, your cervix softens and opens. It “rotates” to the front to get in the right position for letting your baby out.

You can’t be induced with Pitocin unless your cervix is ready, because Pitocin won’t change your cervix. Pitocin can induce contractions, but unless your cervix is prepped and ready to go, those contractions aren’t going to actually do anything.

It’s kind of like how you need to warm up an engine before it’s ready to go. Without the prep work, it’s just not going to work properly.

Doctors “rate” a cervix with a Bishop score before deciding if it’s ready for an induction. Anything less than a six means the cervix may not be ready for labor.

If your cervix is ready, however, Pitocin could become an option.

There are some benefits to being induced including getting your baby delivered if you’re overdue. Other benefits include:

  • Avoiding a cesarean delivery. A 2014 review of studies found that the risk of having a C-section was actually lower with inductions for women at term or post-term than for those who were medically observed until delivery
  • Avoiding complications with risk factors such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia, or an infection.
  • Avoiding complications with a ruptured amniotic sac (aka your water breaking) that isn’t followed by labor or if your labor has stalled.

Simply put: Inductions are medically necessary in cases when the risk of the baby staying in utero exceeds the risk of the induction.

As with many medical procedures and interventions, there are risks with a Pitocin induction. These include:

  • overstimulation of the uterus
  • infection
  • rupture of the uterus
  • fetal distress
  • drop in fetal heart rate
  • fetal death

Starting an induction is usually the start of a long process, so your doctor will likely proceed with caution and with your input.

You’ll likely start with a cervical ripening agent (medication), if needed, which can take hours to work. After that, Pitocin could be the next step.

Once you are on Pitocin, you must be strictly monitored and remain in bed. Contractions typically start about 30 minutes after starting Pitocin.

You’re also not allowed to eat. This is because of the risk of aspiration in the event that you need an emergency cesarean delivery. Pitocin-induced contractions might interfere with rest, too, so both you and the baby can get tired out.

It isn’t uncommon to see inductions stretch out for days, most commonly for first-time moms who have not gone through labor yet.

Most of the time, the parents-to-be don’t expect it to take that long. Mental and emotional frustration can have an impact on labor, too.

Check in with your medical team to make sure you’ve got what you need to rest and stay calm.

If you’re considering an induction (with a favorable cervix!) or your OB says one is medically necessary (if your blood pressure is high, for example), talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits. We know an induction can sound scary, and understanding exactly what it involves is key.

Unless a Pitocin induction is medically necessary, it’s often better to let labor happen on its own. But if you end up inducing, don’t worry — communicate with your doctor to make sure you know what’s going on and how they can help you deliver safely and happily.