Pitocin®, a synthetic form of oxytocin, is routinely given to women before, during and immediately following birth to induce and augment labor and to also prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage. Much to the surprise of the medical community, a recent study showed that Pitocin® is linked to postpartum depression and anxiety.
Even if the numbers may be higher, the research as is, is incredibly validating. Ladies, what you are feeling is not “just in your head”. It’s real, and it’s a big problem (that society has no idea how to handle).
*For a list of symptoms of postpartum mood disorders please visit Postpartum Progress. (Postpartum Progress is a non-profit that aims to raise awareness, fight stigma and provide peer support and programming to women with maternal mental illness.)
The strangest thing about the research study was that the hypothesis was the opposite of what made sense to me as a mother and childbirth educator. The hypothesis suggested that synthetic oxytocin, Pitocin, would in fact lower postpartum depression and anxiety.
A few years ago I was attending a Pitocin® induction at my local hospital. My doula client was struggling BIG TIME with the sudden wave after wave of strong, painful contractions. Her nurse, not knowing what else to do, told her, “this is just labor, honey”. As if what she was experiencing were normal labor sensations. How sad.
Believe me, Pitocin® does not feel warm and fuzzy, and isn’t “just like labor”. My pitocin augmentation birth was much harder than my first two births. For me, Pitocin® made my active labor phase feel like the transition phase, and lasted far longer than the transition phases I had experienced in my non-Pitocin® births.
Oxytocin, on the other hand, is helpful for coping with stress, supporting emotional and mental well-being and also helps with bonding – which are absolutely necessary for a successful transition to motherhood. (source)
If oxytocin is an important hormone for becoming a mother and synthetic oxytocin is linked to postpartum depression, anxiety and low oxytocin during breastfeeding. I can’t help but wonder – what about the baby?
If Pitocin® is linked to postpartum depression and causes a lack of oxytocin during the postpartum period, maybe it’s time to re-evlatulate the use of Pitocin® as it pertains to each woman. (Never mind the baby…)
I’m not suggesting to eliminate Pitocin®, as it is an important life saving tool in modern obstetrics. (Shoot, I’ve even experienced it first hand!) However, because the consequences of routine childbirth interventions such as Pitocin® on human maternal behavior have been understudied, it would be wise to limit the use of Pitocin® until further research is completed.
What if care providers were required to pay for 40 hours of postpartum doula services to women that received Pitocin®? I bet we’d quickly see the true motivations behind the choices made in the care of new mothers.