“Pit to Distress” – Medical Malpractice in Its Purest Form
If you are an expecting parent or ever plan to be, you should know the term “pit to distress.” This is an oblique order doctors give to increase the levels of a synthetic hormone, Pitocin, to a mother during childbirth in order to speed up the labor and delivery process.
At best, doctors do this because they believe it to be standard procedure that speeds up a painful childbirth.
At worst, doctors crank up the Pitocin so they can go home early and turn over the patient’s bed more quickly, creating more profit. Never mind the fact that babies and mothers can be seriously hurt by the practice.
What Is a Pitocin Induction?
Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, a hormone naturally produced by the body to induce contractions, as well as to contribute to social bonding and sexual reproduction.
An induction with Pitocin is administered by a doctor, nurse, or midwife through an IV in the mother’s arm, according to Healthline. The dose is gradually raised until the mother is having regular contractions every two to three minutes. From that point forward, the doctor may choose to continue administering Pitocin through delivery, lower the dose, or stop administering it altogether.
Proper Uses of Pitocin in Labor and Delivery
While doctors and nurses often escalate the use of Pitocin when it is not medically necessary, there is a proper time and a place for this drug. When labor becomes prolonged and the mother is getting fatigued, Pitocin can increase the rate of contractions, moving childbirth along more quickly. Recent studies have shown that inducing labor in this way may reduce the need for more dangerous cesarean section deliveries, allowing patients to give birth vaginally.
The bottom line is that inductions are medically necessary in cases where the risk of the baby staying in utero exceeds the risk of induction. This is a judgment call that medical providers are expected to weigh thoroughly when deciding whether or not to use Pitocin. Examples of cases where Pitocin injections are necessary include conditions like polyhydramnios (too much amniotic fluid), preeclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure in the mother), and fetal growth restrictions (when the baby cannot develop properly in the womb).
Risks of a Pitocin Induction
Risks of Pitocin induction include:
- Overstimulation of the fetus, because he or she cannot rest between contractions
- Rupture of the uterus, particularly if the mother has a previous C-section scar
- Postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) in the mother, “likely due to the prolonged exposure to non-pulsed oxytocin” (i.e., natural oxytocin is released in pulses and assists with the mother’s internal healing processes; Pitocin is released in a stream and does not)
- Fetal distress, often caused by low oxygen, which can lead to cerebral palsy
- Drop in fetal heart rate or fetal death
Pitocin induction carries serious risks, which is why doctors should only call for Pitocin when medically necessary. According to a Childbirth Connection’s national Listening to Mothers survey, 41% of women who gave birth in hospitals reported that their care provider tried to induce their labor, with the most common method being Pitocin.
How Doctors Violate Patient Safety with “Pit to Distress”
Almost half of all mothers in the U.S. are induced nowadays, most of the time with Pitocin. This number may not be frightening on its own; however, 70% of all childbearing women are healthy and their full-term pregnancies are normal. This indicates that Pitocin should only be used 30% of the time or less.
While induction is sometimes medically necessary, the numbers reinforce the idea that doctors are using Pitocin to push labor along when they should be using it as a back-up plan or an exception to a normal birth plan. In fact, the use of Pitocin in labor is the leading cause of malpractice claims. Pitocin is so dangerous and so overly used that an assistant vice president of a hospital told the Washington Post, “Pitocin is used like candy in the OB world, and that’s one of the reasons for medical and legal risk…in many hospitals it is common to ‘pit to distress.’” (Wall Street Journal).
Even when administering Pitocin is the correct course of action for a patient in labor, doctors can still cause harm by administering it too aggressively. After a patient has been given Pitocin, it can take up to 40 minutes for the body to respond. In addition, different women respond to the drug differently. However, doctors still regularly order nurses to increase Pitocin dosage every 20 minutes, either because they don’t know this fact, they haven’t had a negative outcome in the past, or they simply don’t want to wait the full 20 minutes. Too much Pitocin can lead to hyperstimulation of the fetus, one of the risks listed above (Nursing Center).
And that is exactly what some doctors want.
“Pit to distress” means, “Up the Pitocin drip until the baby goes into fetal distress.” That this practice is a reality is borne out by the testimony of neonatal nurses. Once the Pitocin is increased, contractions will come more powerfully. Unless born quickly, the baby won’t have time to recover between contractions. At the first sign of fetal distress, the doctor becomes justified in swooping in to perform an “emergency” C-section. It’s creating the very danger that the doctor will then attempt to bypass—and it is obstetrical malpractice in its purest form.
Work with an Experienced Denver Medical Malpractice Attorney
Impatience, ignorance, or inaccuracy on the part of a physician should never be the reason for injuries to you or your baby during childbirth. Using Pitocin until a baby goes into fetal distress is never acceptable, and if your baby does suffer injury, the doctor can certainly be held liable in court. However, proving this is more difficult than you may think. Doctors are rarely foolish enough to issue an official order for “pit to distress,” instead ordering the nurses to perform the action with no written trail.
However, Leventhal & Puga, P.C., has a team of the top medical malpractice attorneys in the nation, the medical knowledge, the trial experience, and the resources to fully investigate a claim of Pitocin abuse. If you suspect that your child suffered injuries due to a doctor’s use of the “pit to distress” method, call our Denver labor medication injury lawyers at (303) 759-9945 to discuss your case at no cost. We have successfully handled these lawsuits across the United States, and if we take your case, you owe us no attorney fees until we get an outcome in your favor.