The drug Pitocin, which is used to induce labor or keep labor going when it has slowed or stopped, has been found in a new study to have adverse effects on newborn babies. The study, which was presented this week at the Annual Clinical Meeting of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, was the first to report a negative effect of the widely-used drug.
The study was based on data collected from 3,000 women who gave birth between 2009 and 2011. The results showed that women who were given oxytocin (Pitocin is the most common brand name of this type of drug) were more likely to deliver babies who were unexpectedly admitted to the NICU after birth, and that those babies were more likely to remain in the NICU for more than 24 hours. Babies born from Pitocin-augmented labors were also more likely to score less than 7 on the Apgar test, the standard test that evaluates a newborn's physical condition at one and five minutes after birth based on appearance (skin coloration), pulse (heart rate), grimace response (medically known as "reflex irritability"), activity and muscle tone, and respiration (breathing rate and effort). An Apgar score of 8 or higher is generally regarded as the standard for a baby in good health.
Researchers insist that they are not advocating for Pitocin to be eliminated from the labor room, but instead that the drug should be used only when strongly indicated, not, for example, for an elective labor induction.
"We don't want to discourage the use of Pitocin, but simply want a more systematic and conscientious approach to the indications for its use," Dr. Michael S. Tsimis, the study's primary investigator, said in a statement.
Image: Woman with IV in hospital, via Shutterstock