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Pitocin Vs. Oxytocin: Critical Differences That Affect Labor

Affiliate Disclosure | in Motherhood | by | with 28 Comments

Pitocin Vs. Oxytocin: Critical Differences That Affect Labor

Do You Ever Wish You Could Wake Up . . .

In an alternate universe where the New York Times agrees that the flu vaccine is a PR job, traditional pediatricians wax eloquently on the benefits of a fever, and word is out that some sunscreens accelerate aging and cancer?

Well, welcome to that universe.  (source 123)

It’s not a perfect world, but thanks to a growing number of mainstream experts a conversation has begun. A conversation which asks questions like:

Why do American women pay more to give birth than British Royalty, yet have the WORST newborn and maternal outcomes of every industrialized nation?  (4)

Yes, you read that right. Babies born in the U.S. have a 50 percent higher first-day mortality rate than all other industrialized countries included in its study COMBINED. And the mamas? Unfortunately, the U.S. has the worst maternal death rate of any industrialized nation, says Save The Children in it’s report on the best and worst places to be a mother. (5) Latvia and Estonia rank higher for maternal outcomes, as do 27 other developed countries. (6)

HHC Fan Final

Want To Turn Those Statistics On Their Heads?

When I was pregnant with Levi, filmmaker Sarah Kamrath gifted me a copy of her new release, Happy Healthy Child.  This DVD childbirth education course is full of good info for those that are seeking a natural, low-intervention birth. Whether or not that is the kind of birth you want is totally up to you, of course, but if it is this is seriously good stuff from REAL experts (see a partial list below). Here are three insights on improving birth outcomes that I want to pass along:

Pitocin Vs. Oxytocin: Critical Differences That Affect Labor

Please note, I do not believe that there is one “right” way to birth. I am presenting this info so that mama’s can make informed choices about their labor, whatever they decide that should look like.

#1: IV drips may dilute hormones that help to orchestrate labor

Something as simple as an IV can dilute oxytocin, a hormone that naturally occurs during labor. If a woman’s labor begins to slow after the introduction of an IV, care providers may recommend the use of synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) to keep things going.

Though Pitocin is chemically equivalent to oxytocin, it works very differently in the body. Oxytocin is produced within the brain, so it has “psycho-emotional effects, it’s a hormone of calm and connection, a hormone of love, a hormone with natural pain-relieving properties. When we inject it into the mother’s body it doesn’t cross back into her brain and it doesn’t have these beneficial psycho-emotional effects.” (Happy Healthy Baby, emphasis mine)

#2: The use of Pitocin triples a mother’s chance of needing a casearean

Pitocin tends to create “jackhammer contractions” instead of the naturally ebbing/flowing contractions that are typical with oxytocin. These more intense contractions can stress the baby and require intervention. Also, mothers who have labored with and without Pitocin usually report that contractions augmented by Pitocin are much more painful.

#3: Skin-to-skin contact right after birth increases a mother’s oxytocin levels

Not only does this “love hormone” help with pain management and bonding, it reduces a mother’s chance of having a postpartum hemorrhage. Though Pitocin does not offer the former benefits, it is considered effective for the latter. Some midwives carry it in their birth kits for this reason.

Micah's Birth

Micah’s Birth

Getting The Birth We Want Is Never A Guaranteed Thing

. . . but we can totally stack the odds in our favor. Happy Healthy Child: A Holistic Approach shares insights from over 30 world-renowned OB/GYNs, midwives, pediatricians, scientists, psychologists, childbirth educators, sleep experts and lactation specialists that can help improve the birth experience and overall outcome mama’s and their babies.

Ya’ll, we’re not just talking random experts here. If you read through this site much you’l find many of the same names mentioned – these are the people I turned to when I was researching things like routine ultrasounds, co-sleeping, natural birth and more. People like:

  • Dr. Bob Sears, who received his pediatric training at Harvard Medical School’s Children’s Hospital in Boston and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto — the largest children’s hospital in the world. Dr. Sears is the author of over 30 books on childcare and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Royal College of Pediatricians.
  • Ina May Gaskin, who has been called “the mother of authentic midwifery
  • Dr. James McKenna, head of the University of Notre Dame’s Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep LaboratoryThis post and this post are based on his work.
  • and Dr. Sarah Buckley, who was the first to make me dig deeper into routine ultrasounds

Topics covered include:

  • Optimal nutrition for you and your developing fetus (see caveat #2 below)
  • The best ways to prepare for your labor and birth
  •  Building your birth team
  •  Overcoming the intensity of labor
  •  Common interventions and how to avoid the unnecessary ones
  •  Taking care of your new baby (bonding, breastfeeding, infant sleep, etc.)

You will also learn:

  • The #1 thing you can do during your pregnancy to improve your developing baby’s future intelligence
  • What most women are encouraged to do in labor that triples their chances of having a cesarean section
  •  A scientifically proven way to decrease the length of your labor by 25%
  •  The widely touted parenting practice that science says can cause brain damage

If you want to be well-informed about pregnancy, natural birth and postpartum care

. . .  But don’t want to read 25 or so books, I highly recommend this series with two caveats.

Caveat # 1: If you’re totally on board with a natural, intervention-free birth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc. the research presented in this series will leave you feeling REALLY empowered. Like, really. However, if you happen to disagree on one of the points made – say, circumcision for example – some of the experts can come across as a bit judgy sometimes. Still, it’s really good info if you can look past that.

Caveat # 2: In my opinion, some of the info on nutrition was lacking and/or just a little off base.  For example, some experts indicate a vegetarian diet can be optimal (I disagree), recommend keeping fish to a minimum (Chris Kresser has a great article on that, though I am doing some research on Fukushima that I hope to share with you soon)

Though it attempts to steer mamas away from the low-fat mentality, I don’t think this film goes far enough. It recommends high quality fats but not animal fats, says coconut oil is good but too much can be bad, etc.  For nutritional guidance I recommend Beautiful Babies by Kristen Michaelis, my ebook Nourished Baby, and Super Nutrition For Babies. They are all very easy reads that pretty much round out this course.

Watch The Preview

Where to buy Happy Healthy Child

Box_255If you’re looking for a natural childbirth class that provides empowering information and encouragement, I highly recommend this 4-part DVD set. Frankly, since I’d already given birth twice by the time I received this class I didn’t think I’d want to sit through it all, but I was riveted!

(Click here to buy Happy Healthy Child)


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28 Responses to Pitocin Vs. Oxytocin: Critical Differences That Affect Labor

  1. DACB says:

    I’d like to see more info about #3. I have 3 kids and have done everything I can to be as natural as possible in my pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing, but I’m not sure I understand the reasoning or science behind #3.

  2. Laura@twinsontherun says:

    This looks like an informative DVD. I just had a baby 5 weeks ago so it’s a little late for me! Thankfully, I have Nourished Baby to refer to.
    I’m REALLY looking forward to your Fukushima post…I’ve been doing a ton of reading on it and am interested to see what you’ve found.

  3. Jen K. says:

    I cannot wait to read the Fukushima post! I’m soooo lost and confused and get conflicting information everywhere I turn. My daughter eats seaweed ALL THE TIME, and I’m seriously concerned at this point :(

    If it’s not one thing, it’s another. :(

  4. Sarah says:

    I think I’m missing something. How can it not produce the love/feely reaction when in labor, but does post-partum? If it bypasses the brain during labor, wouldn’t it do the same post-partum?

    • Kimberly says:

      She was saying that pitocin does NOT promote happy loving feelings after birth like natural oxytocin but pitocin is effective in preventing or treating postpartum hemorrhage. That’s why midwives carry it.

    • Mej says:

      Pitocin in does not cross into the brain at any time. Heather stated it will help with post partum hemorrhage, not with bonding or emotional well being. For that “my baby is perfect” feeling you need oxytocin that your body made. Women who are given Pitocin during labor often suffer from poor maternal bonding due to Pitocin suppressing native oxytocin.
      Hope that clears things up!

    • Sydney says:

      I read it to mean that it doesn’t produce the lovey feelings at all (during labour or post-partum), but it WILL help reduce the likelihood of hemorrhaging.

      • Heather says:

        Yes, that’s right. Pitocin can help prevent hemorrhaging after labor, but it will not cross into the brain and act as a “love hormone” in the way that oxytocin does.

      • Roz says:

        Sydney, as Heather confirmed- that is correct. Maybe you’re thinking that post-partum Pitocin use for preventing hemorrhage will interfere with the love response if used, but that isn’t true. Once the baby is born the natural oxytocin is present and doing all the “love stuff”, but the extra Pitocin is used for the physical need of contracting a uterus in the case of uterin atony. Pitocin used to contract the uterus during labor will interfere with oxytocin production.

  5. Mindy W says:

    Pitocin is evil! I can’t agree enough about pit contractions being worse than natural ones! With my first my water broke and try as we might, we could NOT get contractions going…so eventually we gave in and I had pitocin, but NO pain meds/epidural. I thought I was going to die…or at least pass out during transition. I was so exhausted I told my husband at one point “they are going to have to cut him out of me, I have no energy left to push!” Thankfully, my Bradley trained husband talked me down and I birthed my son vaginally…but my post birth experience was a haze. I was shaky and pale and ended up with some serious complications. Fast forward 22 months to my second birth…contractions started naturally and then my water broke. I labored at home for a long while then went to the hospital…they were about to send me home bc they said my water hadn’t broken (um, yeah it did!) and I must not have appeared to be in labor. Thankfully they checked me first because I was a 7! A 7! And I was about to be sent home bc they didn’t believe I was in labor. Transition was NOTHING compared to my pit experience, and I have the most beautiful post birth memories of my second son. All that to say…pitocin is EVIL!!!

  6. Spring says:

    For those confused by #3, pitocin can be useful *after* labor to prevent hemmorhaging (spelling?!). It probably helps a quick passage of the placenta. I have heard of this before :) Oxytocin will cause uterine contractions too that help reduce the size of the uterus faster after labor and during nursing sessions. God designed our bodies perfectly!!

  7. Kimberly says:

    I also couldn’t agree more with the severity of pitocin contractions. I had one labor induced due to pre-eclampsia. It was horrific from beginning to end and I ended up with an epidural. My natural delivery began with spontaneous rupture of membranes followed by 16 hours of natural labor. It was completely manageable with no interventions. Transition was a little rough, but isn’t it always.

  8. Hannah says:

    Hi Heather,
    In your opinion is this dvd course a suitable substitute for an in person childbirth education course? My instincts say it’s probably better than many typical CBE courses especially for someone (like myself) who is interested in a no or low intervention natural home birth. Just wondering if you feel this covers everything for a novice. Thanks so much!

    • Heather says:

      Hi Hannah, I happen to have several close friends who are midwives and birth educators – their classes ROCK!! However, I think classes in general are hit or miss depending on the overall philosophy of the educator. The overall philosophy of this film is very consistent with mine (though it can seem a bit judgy at times and I don’t really share that perspective) – I definitely recommend it as a basic course. The only thing I learned in my birth class that wasn’t covered as much here was the nitty gritty on birth positions. A little research on and a talk with your midwife/doula can act as a supplement, though.

  9. Marie says:

    Hi Heather!

    So glad you are putting info out there for mama’s to be! I wish I’d had this info when I had each of my children. With my first baby, my water broke and they screwed up the lab tests and said it wasn’t my water and sent my home for 2 days while I continued to leak water. When my body didn’t go into labor on its own, the only option they gave me was pitocin. I didn’t know any better, so I went with it. Sadly, with all 3 of my kids my body never seemed to want to kick into gear–at least as far as the doctor was concerned. It’s a bit late for me now, but I am glad to see the info being put out there for expecting mothers. Keep up the good work!

    I’m looking forward to the Fukushima post as we’ll. I’m anxious to see what you find.

  10. ChristieAnn mathison says:

    Can’t wait for the Fukushima post as well!!! Also can you give more info about the circumcision position offered in this? I would like to recommend it to people but need to know that first, as I have very clear views on keeping a baby intact! Thanks!

  11. Rebecca P says:

    I had to have pitocin after both natural births due to my placenta hanging on for dear life. Both times baby was placed on my tummy; both times I started nursing right away. Is there a better alternative or a way to avoid this for number 3? I am due in three months and would love to find a way to cut down on the bleeding without the postpartum IV help.

    • Roz says:

      I’m in the same boat- hemorrhage after both births and needed Pitocin. I’m pregnant with #3 now and planning for my home birth but a little worried. My midwife told me I HAD to become a psycho-religious consumer of Red Raspberry Leaf tea or capsules this time around. It is one of the only things proven to get the uterus to contract and let go of the placenta. I’m already having it as often as possible, but I’m planning to drink it exclusively during labor.

      • Rebecca P says:

        I will definitely try it. I did see that post on here for the recipe Heather used. I am just starting my third trimester so it should be perfect timing. You are brave to have a home birth. I would love to do that, but my hemoraghing has been so bad with the other two I almost needed a transfusion. While I will definitely labor at home as long as I can I wouldn’t want to worry my hubby if something went wrong in that way. The first time really scared him since I blacked out after birth. Good luck to you and thanks for the suggestion!

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  15. Valeria says:

    Great article, and I love the references! Thanks for sharing on FaceBook, I’m slowly catching up with your posts, wish I had found you sooner.
    I’m pregnant with my third and had to be induced with my first two kids, both two weeks after my due date. The docs didn’t give me a choice to wait a little longer even thought there were no signs of postmaturity. I wound up with an epidural with the first one after five hours of pitocin labor. I have high pain tolerance but I couldn’t take it. The pain was out of this world, with no breaks, triple peaks and seconds of rest in between. With the second child, I tried to resist induction but the doc said I could be discharged from their care for non-compliance.. ??? … I got the smallest dose, refused epidural and IV fluids; the baby came quickly, and got Apgar score of 9, which the nurses told me they barely ever saw. Again, the baby had no signs of post term delivery. I kept thinking if I just waited a little longer, I could have given birth on my own.
    This time I’m determined to tell the doc to take a hike and discharge me if they insist on induction, I am not doing it. I like the idea of acupuncture, will definitely give it a try if I start going over the term. I tried everything else under the sun to induce labor with my first two babies, to no avail. If you have any ‘secrets’ – I’d love to hear them :)

    • Heather ~ Mommypotamus says:

      Congratulations, Valeria! My little ones tend to like to stay put as well. My daughter was born on the last day of week 42, and my son was born at 41.5 weeks. Babypotamus #3’s “due date” was a little fuzzy, but he was definitely past 41 weeks as well. Newer research indicates that this variation is not due to getting the due date wrong. Rather, gestation times can vary by up to five weeks.

      I think this is new info that is just getting out, and some patients may find they have to educate their doctors about it. Of course, I get why doctors are so rigid – they have the highest malpractice insurance rates and don’t want them to go up. In many ways it’s a broken system. All that to say, you may find this article on acupressure helpful :)

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