The Effects of Pitocin on Birth, Bonding and Breastfeeding
Oxytocin, also known as “the love hormone,” plays a crucial role in birth, bonding and breastfeeding. It is a naturally occurring hormone that causes the uterus to contract during labor. It increases throughout labor and is highest at the time of birth, causing euphoric feelings and bonding (Sarah Buckley). Pitocin, a synthetic version of oxytocin, is typically used for induction and immediately post partum. It is usually given by IV and does not cross the blood-brain barrier, like oxytocin does (Healthline). In fact, Pitocin has drastically different affects on birth, bonding and breastfeeding than naturally occurring oxytocin.
Birth is affected by use of Pitocin in a few ways, including lengthier and more intense contractions. According to one study, participants who were induced with Pitocin had a 300-fold decrease of the oxytocin receptor (OTR) gene in the uterine muscle when compared to receptor availability in non-induced labor. This means that oxytocin release was suppressed due to a decrease in receptors (Aleeca F. Bell, PhD, CNM, Elise N. Erickson, CNM, and C. Sue Carter, PhD). In 2002, author Sarah Buckley stated that Pitocin can cause hyperstimulation of the uterus and can have adverse effects on the fetus, such as reduced blood flow. Contractions with no break in between can cause reduced blood flow. According to birth activist, Doris Haire, this is comparable to “holding an infant under the surface of the water, allowing the infant to come to the surface to gasp for air, but not to breathe.” (Megan J. Lewis, Sarah Buckley)
Because of these intense contractions, an epidural is a possible outcome. In an article by Susan Donaldson James from ABC News, Donaldson wrote, “But induction also heightens the pain of labor and can precipitate the use of an epidural.” A cesarean section is one possible outcome of this domino effect. Donaldson goes on to say, “that, in turn, can delay the pushing mechanism and even trigger the need for a Caesarean.” (Susan Donaldson James) Nurse-midwife, Ratta, with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, believes that if a woman goes into labor, her body is ready to deliver, but if labor is induced, it won’t work as well and might stop midway, which in turn could also end up in a cesarean (Shari Becker).
Pitocin can also cause fetal distress due to the artificial contractions and inability for baby to slow them down if they become too stressful, which can lead to a cesarean, as well (Mama Natural). Uterine rupture is one of the most dangerous risks of Pitocin. According to an analysis of 2774 pregnant women with a history of cesarean delivery who attempted a trial of labor during a 12-year period at a single center, 1072 of which had Pitocin, the rate of uterine rupture was 1.0%, in comparison with 0.4% in non-induced, physiologically laboring patients. In the same analysis, 2214 women had spontaneous onset of labor and 560 women had labor induced with oxytocin or prostaglandin E(2) gel. The overall rate of rupture among all patients with induction of labor was 2.3%, in comparison with 0.7% among women with non-induced labor (Zelop CM, Shipp TD, Repke JT, Cohen A, Caughey AB, Lieberman E).
The effect of Pitocin on bonding is concerning. In a study of women who had the combination of Pitocin and an epidural, breastfeeding was found to produce lower oxytocin levels. In the study mentioned earlier of 2774 women, Pitocin was found to affect oxytocin binding, as well as messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) levels of the OTR. MRNA is a string of RNA molecules that deliver genetic information from DNA to the ribosome. Participants with oxytocin-induced labor had a reduction of 300 times of the OTR gene in the uterus when compared to receptor availability in non-induced labor (Aleeca F. Bell, PhD, CNM, Elise N. Erickson, CNM, and C. Sue Carter, PhD). Because Pitocin does not reach the brain the same way oxytocin does, it can’t trigger the release of the other hormones needed to encourage bonding, like beta-endorphins and catecholamines (Maria Pyanov CPD, CCE, Chris Kresser). Less stress and higher pain tolerance are outcomes of these hormones combined. They balance each other out in just the perfect amounts to create strong bonding between mother and baby, but the balance is thrown off if we add synthetic Pitocin to the mix (Sarah Buckley).
Bonding and breastfeeding go hand in hand. If the bonding is not as strong during birth, it is likely the bonding that is needed for breastfeeding will not be, either. Pitocin can interfere in the early postpartum period, leading to adverse effects on long-term breastfeeding success, and therefore the overall health for mother and baby. Oxytocin is released during breastfeeding for both mother and baby. If breastfeeding is suppressed, oxytocin release will be suppressed, as well. There is also desensitization of the OTR and in the mammary tissue that inhibit the oxytocin-induced milk ejection reflex. Breastfeeding for a shorter duration of time is another effect of Pitocin. According to a study of 189 children born after induction or augmentation with synthetic oxytocin at Carlos Haya University Hospital located in Malaga, Spain, the odds ratio for bottle-feeding was 1.451 and the odds ratio for withdrawal at three months was 2.294 (M.R. Odent). Less breastfeeding also can lead to breast engorgement, due to milk build-up, which can be painful for mother. Baby will not only lack oxytocin but will not receive the antibodies contained in breast milk, which can lead to sickness and infection (Women’s Health). Diuretic effects are another risk of Pitocin that can lead to breast engorgement, making it more difficult for baby’s mouth to conform to the breast and for adequate latch. According to Mary Kroeger, author of Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding, increased pressure from Pitocin induced contractions can put more pressure on the occipital portion of baby’s head, increasing risk for cranial molding, asymmetry, and cranial base misalignment – negatively impacting functioning of the 6 cranial nerves involved in sucking and swallowing (Megan J. Lewis).
After researching the differences between oxytocin and Pitocin, it is clear to me that Pitocin has very different effects on both mom and baby than oxytocin. From what I have researched, Pitocin used for induction causes more negative effects than positive and can interfere with the overall bonding between mother and baby. As you can see, Pitocin is not the same as oxytocin, and it does not act the same way or provide the same benefits as oxytocin.
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