Is It Safe to Use Pitocin® to Induce Labor?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 19, 2023
3 min read

Pregnancy can feel exciting and challenging all at once. When it's time to give birth, there are many things to consider. You may have a specific birth plan while the baby has another. It's normal for there to be some uncertainty in the delivery room. 

Labor starts with contractions that dilate (or soften) and open the cervix to prepare your body for birth. This process is the result of hormones released in your body. If you're close to or past your delivery date and still haven't gone into labor on your own, this delay may pose health risks. Sometimes, a doctor may suggest using medications to stimulate your hormones and speed up the process. 

Towards the end of pregnancy, a hormone called oxytocin stimulates the uterine muscles and causes contractions that begin the process of labor. Pitocin® is a synthetic version of oxytocin, and doctors use this IV medication for labor induction. This drug helps imitate natural labor and birth by causing the uterus to contract. 

Labor induction isn't always necessary. Your doctor will consider many factors, including your general health and your baby's health. Your doctor will take a look at your baby's weight, size, and gestational age, or how far along you are in the pregnancy. 

Reasons for labor induction include: 

Pitocin® mimics hormones that already exist in your body. There are some risks to using this medication:

  • Results in low heart rate, which can affect your baby's oxygen supply 
  • Membrane infections 
  • Ruptured uterus
  • Excess bleeding after delivery 

Medical issues may result in an emergency C-section, or in rare cases, may require a surgeon to remove your uterus. 

Induction failure may occur about 25 percent of the time.

You should talk to your doctor about the risk and benefits of induction of labor.

It's important to consider the health of you and your baby. Pitocin® is one of the safest methods for inducing labor and is successful 75 percent of the time. However, there are some reasons to be cautious.

Additional stress. Pitocin® can make uterine contractions more difficult to manage, which can put more stress on the baby. 

IV delivery and monitoring. Your doctor will give you the medication intravenously (IV). It requires continuous monitoring of the baby, restricts your ability to move, and could increase the chances you'll need a C-section. 

Possible overuse. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends women and their doctors evaluate the benefits and risks of Pitocin® before using it to induce labor. 

Inducing labor, especially for women giving birth to their first child, can be a long and difficult process. 

Labor induction isn't appropriate for all women. It's important to discuss your delivery options with your doctor during your pregnancy. Using Pitocin® may not be an option if: 

  • The placenta is blocking your cervix.
  • Your baby is in the breech position (buttocks first) or transverse (sideways). 
  • You've had a C-section or uterine surgery in the past. 
  • You have genital herpes and are experiencing an outbreak.
  • You have umbilical cord prolapse, which means the baby's umbilical cord has moved into your vagina. 

If you've had a cesarean delivery in the past and your doctor decides to induce labor, he or she will likely avoid specific medications to reduce any risk of uterine rupture. 

If both mom and baby are medically stable, the best course of action is to go home, rest, and try again in a few days or a week. Women who haven't gone into labor within a certain time period may need a C-section.