Pitocin Linked to Child's Cerebral Palsy

An Illinois jury recently awarded a 13-year old boy $14.4 million dollars due to brain damage that was caused by health care provider negligence. The child is afflicted with cerebral palsy and suffers from a seizure disorder. He will require constant aid and attendant care.

This is an all-too-common story in today’s medicine. Even more troubling is that the synthetic drug Pitocin was at the center of the case. Indeed, it was alleged in the case that the Pitocin caused a condition, most likely hyperstimulation, which the nurses failed to act upon.

Pitocin (or oxytocin) is a drug that is used during labor and delivery to help augment or induce labor. It is given intravenously to the mother. To give birth naturally, the uterus must contract efficiently in order to send the baby down the birth canal. When a woman’s contractions are too weak, or too infrequent, Pitocin is used to help strengthen and intensify contractions. Because Pitocin has dangerous side effects, informed consent must be given by the mother before it is administered.

Even though Pitocin is commonly used during labor, and even though it does have some benefits, the drug can clearly be dangerous to a baby. Excessive Pitocin can cause the uterus to contract too frequently. This is called hyperstimulation. Nurses and physicians are required to identify hyperstimulation before it becomes harmful to the baby. If hyperstimulation is missed or ignored, the baby can become distressed and lose oxygen. When a baby loses too much oxygen, brain cells can die and the baby can suffer brain damage. This is called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or HIE.

Intense contractions can also be detrimental to a baby during the labor process. If a baby’s head is up against the pelvis, and contractions are too intense from Pitocin, the baby can suffer physical trauma to its head that can also result in severe brain damage. This is called “mechanical trauma” from excessive Pitocin. Peer-reviewed medical literature has established mechanical trauma as a real cause for concern regarding the use of Pitocin.

Hospitals should have explicit policies and procedures regarding the use of Pitocin and its relationship to electronic fetal heart rate monitoring. One common policy states that if the fetal heart tracing becomes non-reassuring then Pitocin use should be discontinued immediately. When hospitals fail to institute such policies, or when health care providers fail to abide by policies that are in place, the outcome can clearly be tragic.

At WVF, we have successfully litigated numerous birth injury and cerebral palsy cases involving the negligent use of Pitocin. As a result, we have access to world-class experts who have extensively researched and investigated the connections between Pitocin, asphyxia, HIE, mechanical trauma, and cerebral palsy.

The most frustrating aspect of these cases is that a flick of a switch or a touch of a button may have prevented a child’s cerebral palsy. Just shutting off the Pitocin can make all of the difference in the world. With the dangers of Pitocin becoming more and more apparent, one of the first questions we ask prospective clients is: Were you given Pitocin during your labor?

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