Oxytocin VS Pitocin/Syntocinon: What's the difference.

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

When talking about birth experience with friends or colleagues, often the name Pitocin gets thrown around. Generally it's mentioned as a way the doctors 'got my labour going' or 'started to speed up contractions'.

So it's easy to come away from those conversations thinking Pitocin or (Syntocinon as we call it here in Australia) is a great way to achieve a 'natural' birth.

But is that really the case?

What we know is that there are several big differences between the naturally occurring oxytocin and the synthetic Pitocin which we often here of. We've gone and put these together so you can decide if Pitocin is right your you.

1. Oxytocin enhances bonding.

As Oxytocin is a naturally produced hormone, it is able to cross the blood brain barried and interact on other processes so that bonding and love can be strengthed. Unfortunately this isn't the case for Pitocin.

2. Your body regulates the build up of an Oxytocin contraction.

When we have a contraction brought on by Oxytocin, our bodies are able to regulate and build on the strength and intensity of the contraction. Imagine a gentle arch (kind of like a rainbow) as it builds, peaks and then falls again.

When you're experiencing a contraction stimulated by Pitocin, our bodies aren't able to regulate things the same way and therefore we reach the peak of a contraction much faster and find them more intense. Think what the sudden rise of the Eiffel tower would look like on a graph.

3. Oxytocin encourages the release of endorphins.

Those 'happy hormones' we just love when we're in pain or uncomfortable are triggered by the release of oxytocin.

We want as much of these as we can when we're going through labour and birth and as Pitocin is a synthetic drug, we don't get the same response when it's used.

4. Pitocin/Syntocinon increases the risk of haemorrhage.

When used only in the third stage of labour, it can actually decrease the risk of postpartum haemorrhage but when used as it commonly is, to start or 'induce' labour it can substantially increase the risk of postpartum haemorrhage.

Definitely something to ponder before making a final decision on medical induction.

5. Oxytocin peaks just before birth.

As Syntocinon/Pitocin is delivered consistently via an IV drip we don't get this same surge which is a serious downside. The oxytocin surge has been known to increase the likelihood of the foetal ejection reflex coming into effect and also helps to signal the delivery of the placenta.

6. Pitocin can sometimes reduce the chance of an active birth.

As Pitocin is delivered via an IV drip, use during the pushing phase of labour can sometimes mean restricted positions for mum, as you're obviously connected to a machine. Some hospitals are great at managing this, however it is generally the case that walking, using showers or birth pools and some other active birthing positions are a no go zone.

7. Pitocin can cause foetal distress.

Definitely the most alarming and important thing to note about Pitocin is its affect on baby's heart rate if it does instigate more frequent contractions than needed. While in theory, it can be easily managed by asking mum to lie on her left and reducing the amount of the drug delivered, it significantly increases the risk of other intervention if baby doesn't 'relax' as readily as we would like.

Before you rush off and completely rule out the use of Pitocin for your birth, it is important to note that there are some times where it can be useful. However the research does suggest that these times are few and far between.


- BBBx

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