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Pitocin Mismanagement and Cerebral Palsy

Child with cerebral palsy during a therapy session

Childbirth and the anticipation of bringing home a new healthy bundle of joy should be exciting. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always go as planned, and in some cases, serious complications can result in permanent consequences such as cerebral palsy, autism, and brain damage. Most avoidable complications result from medical negligence and one example of this is the mismanagement of the labor-inducing drug Pitocin. 

What Is Pitocin?

At the end of a woman’s pregnancy, a naturally-occurring hormone known as oxytocin is released and is responsible for activating uterine contractions and labor. Oxytocin will periodically be released as a woman nears birth, making the contractions longer, stronger, and closer together. However, this process may sometimes fail on its own or stall, and the medical provider may choose to administer a synthetic drug, known as Pitocin, intravenously to mimic contractions in the place of oxytocin. 

After being administered, labor will generally happen at a more rapid rate than it would naturally.  Four in ten (40% of women) nearing labor are induced, mostly in cases of fetal distress or if the baby is overdue and labor is not progressing. When negligence occurs and the healthcare team mismanages Pitocin, serious harm can happen to the mother and/or baby.

Risks of Pitocin

Pitocin in a controlled medical environment can be a safe and highly effective method for healthy deliveries. As a result, many women given Pitocin during birth go on to have a healthy birth and baby. However, it’s important to know that Pitocin can be associated with several health risks and potential birth injuries when mismanaged. 

During childbirth, the mother’s placenta is briefly compressed, cutting off the baby’s supply of nutrients and oxygen. Therefore, each break between contractions is essential to the baby’s health. Hyperstimulation from the mismanagement of Pitocin can cause contractions to come too fast, stressing the woman’s body. The baby’s continuous decrease in air supply can cause asphyxia (suffocation), and brain damage may occur. At this point, the doctor may decide an emergency C-section is necessary. 

Pitocin can be related to other risks before and during childbirth. Some of these risks include:

  • Uterine rupture
  • Extreme contractions
  • Hemorrhaging after birth for the mother
  • Cervical laceration
  • Maternal stroke
  • Fetal asphyxia
  • Injury (both physical and neural)
  • Prematurity
  • Hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in body tissues)
  • Death

When Should Pitocin Be Considered?

When used correctly, Pitocin can be a critical part of healthy childbirth and, at times, life-saving. A doctor may choose to administer Pitocin and induce labor when:

  • A woman is approaching week 42 of the pregnancy
  • An epidural has slowed the labor process
  • The mother’s water has broken, contractions have not started, and other potentially threatening situations where the labor process needs to be sped up

Who Shouldn’t Have Pitocin?

If the mother has a pre-existing health condition and Pitocin use presents a threat, the healthcare team should inform the mother of the risk and act accordingly. Ignoring pre-existing medical issues is considered negligent behavior. Health conditions that can pose a danger when Pitocin is mismanaged include: 

  • Blood pressure concerns
  • History of cervical cancer
  • Previous surgeries on the cervix or uterus
  • History of difficult labor
  • A pregnancy that is less than 37 weeks
  • Five or more pregnancies 
  • Heart issues
  • Genital herpes

Cerebral Palsy Caused by a Mismanagement of Pitocin

The mismanagement of Pitocin can cause harm to the fetus’ oxygen and blood supply. When this happens, birth asphyxia can occur. In addition, this deprivation can result in a life-long brain injury, such as cerebral palsy.

Signs of Cerebral Palsy in Infants 

Cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that will impact the ability to move and maintain balance. Diagnosing a baby with cerebral palsy immediately after birth is difficult and isn’t always spotted in babies early on.  Instead, a diagnosis may happen later when the baby shows signs of developmental delays in movement milestones – crawling, sitting, standing, and rolling over. 

Some ways to tell if a baby has cerebral palsy earlier than six months of age include: 

  • Baby feels floppy
  • Baby feels stiff
  • When you pick the baby up, its legs go stiff 
  • When in your arms, the baby overextends their back or neck

Signs an infant has cerebral palsy over six months of age:

  • Baby doesn’t roll over
  • Unable to bring feet together 
  • Difficulty getting hands to mouth
  • Reaches with one hand while leaving the remaining in a fist
  • Crawls lopsided

Signs of Birth Asphyxia 

Asphyxia causes 6-8% of cerebral palsy cases, and spotting it early on can help one determine if negligence occurred during labor and delivery, and if the mismanagement of Pitocin is to blame. After giving birth, the doctor will be able to spot if birth asphyxia has occurred by observing for the following signs:

  • Low heart rate
  • Blue or pale skin tone
  • Seizures
  • Difficulty or absence of breathing
  • Low level of alertness
  • Weak reflexes

Following birth, doctors will rate the baby’s health on a scale of 0-10 using a system known as the Apgar Score. Studies have shown low Apgar scores can be related to neurological disability and cognitive function in early adulthood. When diagnosed after birth, there are treatment options that the baby can undergo to help prevent brain damage.

While spotting injuries early on in a child’s life is advantageous, some brain injuries will go unrecognized until later. Brain injuries that may appear later in life – like autism spectrum disorders – can be related to medical negligence during labor. For example, recent studies have shown a correlation between the mismanagement of Pitocin during childbirth and the disorder. Women given Pitocin during childbirth were 2.32 times more likely to have a child diagnosed with autism later in life.

Medical Negligence May Be to Blame

We trust medical professionals to act in our best interest, especially during labor and delivery. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and some birth injuries occur due to improper care and attention. While often not intentional, things can go overlooked or become rushed, severely impacting the mother and the baby’s health. 

When administering Pitocin, doctors and nurses should monitor the mother and baby for signs of distress or adverse reaction to the drug. Failure to diagnose or a delayed diagnosis for the mother and baby can have life-threatening consequences. In addition, during a complicated delivery, there are several instances where medical negligence may cause harm. These instances include:

  • Mismanagement of Pitocin
  • Exerting too much force on the baby during delivery
  • Failure to prevent maternal hemorrhaging
  • Failure to perform C-section when necessary
  • Failure to recognize distress in the baby

What if Mismanagement of Pitocin Caused Cerebral Palsy?

With doctors and nurses running around the delivery room, there’s no doubt that a birth can be a chaotic experience. Understandably, expectant parents may be unaware of issues caused by medical staff, such as negligently administering Pitocin, until an injury has occurred. Speaking up if something feels wrong during or after childbirth can be challenging, especially when doctors reassure you that everything is progressing normally. However, if a child is diagnosed with cerebral palsy and Pitocin mismanagement is suspected, it’s essential to determine if negligence occurred and what legal options exist.

Caring for a child diagnosed with cerebral palsy can cause significant financial strain on a family due to high medical care and living costs incurred over the patient’s lifetime. The more severe the disorder, the higher the costs. Though there are several ways to help offset some expenses through government assistance programs, insurance, and charity organizations, not all of the following expenses might be covered in full:

  • Payments for doctor visits
  • Medications
  • Surgery costs
  • Hospital bills
  • Home accommodation costs
  • Therapy expenses (physical, occupational, speech, etc.)
  • Mobility equipment

Hiring an attorney is recommended if there is suspicion that medical malpractice has caused a birth injury. They will be able to fight for the injured child and obtain the financial compensation needed to cover both short- and long-term expenses. 

Finding an Attorney to Represent You

Injuries caused at birth can result in a lifetime of care and expenses. Finding a reputable legal team can make all the difference in getting the economic and emotional justice you deserve. Here are things you should look for when finding an attorney for a birth injury case

  • Experience with birth injury cases
  • A proven track record of success
  • Professional and compassionate representation

Rosenblum Law understands the emotional and financial impact of having a child that was injured at birth. Each case is different and thus needs individualized attention. We thoroughly evaluate your situation, determine your best options, and fight on your behalf for maximum compensation and justice. Call us today at 888-153-8649 to speak with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.


I was given Pitocin during childbirth; is my baby at risk?

Most administrations of Pitocin will not result in injury. When used correctly, Pitocin can be an effective and even life-saving drug. If you have concerns before or during delivery, you should always talk to a medical professional. If you feel that the Pitocin you were administered may have caused injury to yourself or your child, you should consult an experienced legal representative as soon as possible.

Can I refuse Pitocin during childbirth?

Pitocin is for patients who need labor intervention. As a patient, it is your right to refuse any medication but this may or may not be advisable. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about Pitocin.

Can Pitocin’s effects show up later in my child’s life?

There is a correlation between the mismanagement of Pitocin and brain injuries. Your baby may show signs of these injuries right after birth. However, there are cases where the child is diagnosed later in life with an injury that can be linked back to Pitocin use during labor. One of these is a disorder known as autism spectrum disorder (better known as autism). A recent study showed that women given Pitocin had a greater risk of their child being diagnosed with autism later in life.

What are the signs of cerebral palsy in infants, and how is it diagnosed?

It’s not until developmental delays occur that a doctor will diagnose a baby with cerebral palsy. Signs of cerebral palsy include difficulties with rolling over, standing, sitting, stiffness, and floppiness. A diagnosis entails developmental monitoring, screening, and evaluations.

Is there a cure for cerebral palsy?

While there is no cure for cerebral palsy, there are treatment options that can significantly improve the quality of life for those who have the condition. Therefore, starting a treatment program as early as possible is recommended. Some of these therapies are expensive; a personal injury settlement can help offset these costs.

What should I do if I think an injury occurred due to Pitocin mismanagement?

The first thing you should do if you think a birth injury is directly related to the care you receive is contact an experienced law firm to maximize your chances of getting justice. You will also want to secure your medical records.

How do I know if I have a valid birth injury lawsuit? 

The best way to determine this is to speak with an experienced birth injury lawyer. They will have the medical records reviewed by a medical expert who will assist in making this determination.

What should I expect after filing a claim?

After filing a claim, out-of-court options, such as a settlement, may be explored. You will authorize your attorney to retrieve your medical records for review and to have them as evidence. A case may be settled, brought before a panel (in some states) and/or sued in court.

What should I look for in a law firm that specializes in this practice area?

When you are choosing a law firm to represent you, you’ll want one that specializes in medical malpractice and has experience being successful in doing so. In addition, you’ll want legal representation that acts compassionately and always has your best interest in mind.

Child with cerebral palsy during a therapy session
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