Study Associates Pitocin Use With Adverse Effects on Infants' Health

New study raises concerns about the safety of Pitocin.


You probably know at least one mom who used Pitocin—a brand name for synthetic oxytocin —to induce or augment labor. But now, a new study has pregnant women concerned that the commonly used labor hormone could adversely affect their baby's health.

The study, presented last week at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, found that induction and augmentation of labor with oxytocin was an independent risk factor for full-term infants to be unexpectedly admitted to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for more than 24 hours.

Primary Investigator Michael S. Tsimis, MD, and fellow researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City also found that augmentation with oxytocin correlated with scores fewer than seven on the Apgar test, which is routinely used to evaluate a newborn's health. An Apgar score of eight or higher is generally indicative of good health.

"These results suggest that Pitocin use is associated with adverse effects on neonatal outcomes. It underscores the importance of using valid medical indications when Pitocin is used," Dr. Tsimis says in an ACOG press release.

It's important to note that this first-of-its kind study, which retrospectively analyzed more than 3,000 deliveries of full-term infants that were induced or augmented with oxytocin from 2009 to 2011, found an association between Pitocin use and fetal health—not a cause and effect. And the researchers say they don't want to discourage the use of the drug, but "simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use."

Shilpi Mehta-Lee, MD, assistant professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, says that while a retrospective study isn't ideal, the findings raise do questions.

"It gives us pause to think about how we use this medication, to make sure we use it in an appropriate fashion," she tells

However, she says moms-to-be should "absolutely" feel comfortable using Pitocin when it's indicated for fetal or maternal reasons, such as a protracted labor course, preeclampsia or if the fetus isn't growing well. She also notes that women who used Pitocin shouldn't use this retrospective study as a reason to look back and blame any problems their babies may have faced on the drug.

"When you look at women who are induced or augmented, they're different from the general population. For some reason they didn't go into labor or progress [normally]. Women who naturally go into labor may be prone to different outcomes to begin with," she says.

Still have concerns about Pitocin? Dr. Mehta-Lee advises talking to your doctor and making decisions together.

"Pregnancy is an evolving course—nobody knows exactly what their birth plan is going to be. It's important to talk about various scenarios and what all those things mean."