Another clue may help unravel the mystery of a national health crisis

A link is born

“Pit to distress.”

That has to be one of the most hideous orders that can be uttered in a hospital. In fact, when it IS spoken aloud, I expect it’s almost always whispered to avoid attention.

Yes, it’s THAT bad.

“Pit to distress” poses terrible risks to women in labor and their unborn children.

But new evidence is emerging that links “Pit to distress” with a grave health crisis that ruins lives and breaks the hearts of parents every day.

Very first fear

“Pit” is Pitocin. And as I’ve mentioned before, Pitocin is a synthetic pharmaceutical version of oxytocin, a hormone that naturally prompts contractions of the uterus during labor. In some cases, Pitocin use is necessary for women with preeclampsia and other pregnancy problems.

But “Pit to distress” is something else entirely.

When an obstetrician needs (or wants) to move labor along quickly, he may call for the highest dose of Pitocin, knowing the fetus will become distressed. Parents are then informed that their baby is in danger, and everyone hurries to an operating room for an emergency cesarean section.

The problem comes with that one word: “wants.”

You see, doctors will sometimes use “Pit to distress” to make their lives easier. Turn a 20-hour labor into a 10-hour labor? Sure — bring on the high dose of Pitocin and everybody’s home in time for dinner.

And if there were no repercussions, what woman wouldn’t want to shave 10 hours off her labor? But excessive Pitocin makes labor more difficult and painful for the mother, and impedes blood and oxygen flow to the fetus, which is where the “distress” comes in.

Can you imagine? “Pit to distress” means a child’s entry into the world could be starting with a panicked fear of suffocation.

There’s no wonder why one nursing textbook describes “Pit to distress” as “not an acceptable order.”

Time to follow up…NOW

All of that is obviously bad enough. But now we’re starting to see evidence that excessive use of Pitocin may be linked to autism.

A few years ago, an autism specialist named Dr. Eric Hollander told Newsweek magazine that nearly two of every three autistic children he treats have been exposed to Pitocin during childbirth.

More recently, an informal survey of about a dozen midwives who had practiced for about 20 years could not identify a single case of autism in any of the children who they had helped deliver in home-births.

It’s very unlikely that any of those births would have included Pitocin. (But then, I think that women who choose natural childbirth in their homes are also less inclined to follow the full recommended childhood vaccine schedules.)

In another survey of about 400 midwives, no autism cases were reported.

All of this is circumstantial evidence, but it’s powerfully compelling — certainly compelling enough to follow up with rigorous studies. Especially because there are so many unanswered questions…

  • Could any dose of Pitocin raise autism risk, or just a “distress” dose?
  • Could other drugs interact with Pitocin to raise risk?
  • Could anesthesia use play a role?
  • Could genetic factors make a child hypersensitive?

If we’re ever going to unlock — or eliminate — the cause (or causes) of autism, we have to ask the hard questions and look at all the possibilities. Because we know that autism isn’t something that “just happens.” Something is making it happen.

“ATTN: Researchers- Look in the first environment, the womb” Autism Today,
“‘Pit to Distress’: Your Ticket to an ‘Emergency’ Cesarean?” Unnecesarean, 7/6//09,

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