Pitocin and Autism – A Link?

pregnantIs there a link between the usage of pitocin, an artificial hormone given to induce or speed up labor, and the rise in autism statistics? Are we causing autism by our use of such drugs in the birth process?

The theory of a link between pitocin and autism is a controversial one, and a rather worrying one, but it is something that needs further research so that we can rule it out or do something about it.

It first entered the public forum when Geoffrey Cowley, a Newsweek reporter, interviewed physician Dr Eric Hollander of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine for an article back in July 2000 (see http://www.newsweek.com/id/85572/page/1 for “Understanding Autism” article). Dr Hollander had made the startling discovery that 60% of his autistic patients had been exposed to pitocin in the womb, when their mothers’ labors had been induced, and said:-

“In some individuals whose oxytocin system could be genetically vulnerable, a strong environmental early hit while the brain is still developing could down-regulate the oxytocin system, leading to developmental problems. But this is only a hypothesis that has been observed by association.”

What is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, a hormone that is naturally produced by a woman’s brain to produce spontaneous labor. When oxytocin is produced in the woman’s body, it triggers uterine contractions which cause the woman’s cervix to dilate and which also propel the baby through the birth canal. When a woman goes past her due date or needs to be induced for some reason, pitocin can be used to artificially induce labor or speed things up.

What is its link to Autism?

An article on Autism Today’s website (see http://www.autismtoday.com/articles/ATTN_Researchers.htm) points out that oxytocin is also produced during breastfeeding and during sexual orgasms, which are both events ” associated with experiences of great emotional bonding and include meaningful social interaction between the individuals involved”. Autism Today wonders if there is therefore a link between a baby being flooded with “this gender-specific synthetic hormone from animals” and autism spectrum disorders where a child may have an inability to bond with others, socialize and make relationships. Does pitocin exposure interfere with psychological functioning? An interesting question.

Another theory linking pitocin and autism is that the drug causes enormous pressure on the baby’s cranium during the birth process, much more than during spontaneous natural labor. New York’s “Naturally” magazine (quoted at http://www.mothering.com/discussions/showthread.php?t=650489) says:-

“Today’s obstetrical practices, notably Pitocin and Epidural can result in compression in the baby’s skull. This occurs because the drugs interfere with the rhythm of birth, which is based on the relationship between expansion and contraction of the plates of the baby’s skull and the expansion and contraction in the mother’s pelvis to enable the baby to pass through the birth canal. With the mother’s rhythm altered by the drugs, the baby’s head is subjected to enormous pressure during birth, which can result in cranial compression. This in turn can put pressure on the brain and cranial nerves, among other effects. Again, the developing nervous system is compromised. One doctor likens birth under these conditions to using the baby’s head as battering ram, with the Pitocin speeding up the birth rhythm. His clinical analysis of his autistic patients revealed that in 60% of the cases Pitocin was used during birth.”

Is there really a link?

The Autism Today article also points out that when a woman is induced with pitocin she is also often given many other drugs and interventions, so can we really say that it is pitocin alone that is a factor in autism? Other drugs and interventions often used alongside pitocin include:-

  • Other IV fluids
  • Increased electric fetal monitoring causing the woman to be sedentary during her labor.
  • Increased chance of the woman being given narcotic pain relievers or an epidural because the labor is more painful.
  • Increased chance of assisted delivery (forceps or vacuum extraction)

So, Autism Today asks whether it may actually be a combination of drugs, or a combination of drugs and physical problems, which could be a causative factor for autism, rather than the use of pitocin alone.

A study entitled “Pitocin induction in autistic and nonautistic individuals” by S Gale, S Ozonoff and J Lainhart, examining the rates of labor induction using pitocin, looked at the birth histories of 41 autistic boys and 25 IQ-matched and age-matched boys without autism, and failed to find a link between the use of pitocin and neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

Whatever our thoughts on this, the use of pitocin is climbing, along with autism rates, and its possible link to developmental disorders does warrant further research.

Two decades ago, the former president of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Roberto Caldreyo-Barcia, MD, stated that “Pitocin is the most abused drug in the world today”, and many feel that in the majority of cases its use just isn’t medically necessary. Perhaps we should only “interfere” with nature when absolutely necessary, when a mother or her child are in danger.

Further Reading

You can read more about the possible link between pitocin and autism at the following sites:-






  1. says

    I had an epidural, pitocin and every other drug in the hospital with my autistic son so the next time when I was expecting another boy, I read an awesome book, HypnoBirthing, and was able to have a pain free completely natural birth without even an IV. They tried to give me Pitocin after he was born to stop my bleeding and I flat out refused since I did not want that in my milk supply. The nurse seemed shocked that I was refusing and I had to repeat myself saying that they would simply have to find something else to stop my bleeding. No more pitocin for me, ever!

  2. Monica says

    I can say that I agree with everything above. I have fully believed that pitocin and epidural during my labor is what triggered Autism in my son. My son is the second child in our immediate family to be diagnosed. Both of us (mothers) had pitocin and epidural with our labors. I do feel that adding pitocin to a young males body when it is really a foreign agent may be part of the reason they seem to have the exact opposite affect of what pitocin/oxytocin is suppose to have. My question now is where is the disconnect in the brain. If the cerebellum is responsible for speech, what can be done to assist with getting the information inside to come out. Thank you for this website.

  3. Justin Bitner says

    First off it needs to be pointed out that all of the above referenced come form “magazines” and not medical journals. Thus all of these questions are posed by people looking at statistics and not actually conducting a formal case study containing 500+ individuals with the exception to the small research which observed no correlation between less than 100. Dr Eric Hollanders “hypothesis” from 1998 has been repeated on many sites such as this but has never been cited in a medical journal, published medical research or other recognized medical forum so one would ask why after 12 years are we referring to a hypothesis that he himself either investigated fully and did not care for the findings or just didn’t even continue investigating further.

    I’m a person that goes off clinical research results. Autism is a situation where people are grasping at straws for a correlation so they can act to prevent. Try looking at the newengland journal of medicine for a recent publication where a formal clinical trial found when looking at over 500+ autistic children they all had two mutated genes when compaired to neurotypical children. Mutations in genes occur durring early development, not durring birth and are often hereditary. Ie debunking this article.

  4. admin says

    Hi Justin, I agreed with you that we shouldn’t based our ideas/decisions on hearsay of the general mass media like TV, magazine, advertising from drug companies, etc. This blog was written to provoke giving a second thoughts about the consequences of invasive childbirth. Not so sure about the New England Journal of Medicine as being credible source as they have their own problems of doctoring up data of research. Just google around for this conspiracy.

  5. admin says

    Hi Monica, try oxygenated the brain using HBOT to see if it helps for the cerebellum section and continue speech therapy.

  6. RC says

    My twins were induced using pitocin, without an epidural. They now both have a diagnoses of autism, although the younger one is far more affected than his brother. Medical testing has revealed immune deficiency, heavy metal toxicity and mitochondrial damage. This blog makes me wonder if that mito damage was caused by the pitocin, leaving the boys susceptible to the metal poisoning, which in turn caused the immune issues. I also received over twenty scans during the pregnancy (due to a suspected congenital heart defect in the older twin). Add to that the IV antibiotics my youngest son was given after reacting to the DTAP… Together it reads like a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

    And to Justin… There is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. It’s far more likely these children are the victims of environmental triggers causing mitochondrial mutation than it is they share a common defective gene. The numbers are far too high for that. They’re autistic, not inbred. 😉

  7. Sheryl Wilson says

    Several years ago I contacted Dr. Hollander’s office and passed on to the woman who answered the phone both my own family’s experience with the connection between autism and Pitocin and the results of a June 1991 British Lancet article based on a study out of Japan of four hospitals administering synthetic oxytocin up to a week ahead of labor (as I recall), and of the four hospitals studied all four had higher than “normal” rates of autistic outcomes with the worst being the hospital which started the drug the earliest. I believe these results involve the following: abnormally intensifying contractions without adequate release time between the contractions, which necessitates increased use of anesthetic (if any) as well as decreased oxygen to the baby, increasing the proverbial “pounding on the perineum” and its negative effects on the baby’s brain, and the added insult of the artificial agent taking up the normal oxytocin receptors in the baby’s brain and thereby affecting growth and maturation of brain centers well after labor and delivery are over. In addition, in our fourth child’s case, there were cerebral palsy effects that did not clearly manifest until about six weeks as an inward curvature of the left leg, and later testing confirmed a greater than 18% difference in grip strength between left and right hands, both of which indicate cerebellar insult. Interestingly, two of our four children were born in hospitals and both of those labors involved Pitocin, and there were similar oddities in behavior and development between the two children as infants that largely faded in the older child as time went on; we believe the difference was that the large urban teaching hospital staff were more calibrated in their administration of the drug during labor and were correctly trained/training as OB/GYN’s whereas the small community-based rural hospital where our most affected child was born was probably not as knowledgeable in the use of the drug. Our two middle children were born at home, thankfully, and had no autistic symptoms. In the case of the smaller hospital, we had chosen one doctor over the other because he was more amenable to home delivery but, unbeknownst to us, he was only a GP; that and the fact that we were first six months in new employment (good job but with no insurance during a probation period, in an area of high indigence in the population), we believe caused a confluence of things that injured our child. Having a “living laboratory” of four children, it didn’t take us long to figure out the connection between the slight Asperger’s behavior that our oldest child outgrew and the more profound “autism” (Asperger’s with mental retardation) of our youngest child. Incidentally, we asked the GP three times for a C-section and he ignored us all three times; now we realize that he was probably not qualified to perform one, or was just “saving the hospital money.” We filed a suit against him, but didn’t have a clear enough case, though we later learned that our filing alerted other families to the problem, who also filed suit and hopefully prevented further trouble along those lines in that locality.

    We had the privilege of speaking at a Sensory Integration International convention in San Diego in 1995 and another speaker was Dr. Jaq Pangsepp of Bernie Rimland’s Defeat Autism Now, and he was researching on and finding an oxytocin connection with autism at that time, as well.



  8. Sheryl Wilson says

    I forgot to include: Since 1978, one year after our youngest child’s birth, the FDA changed the status of IV Pitocin use during labor and delivery to “not recommended.” That is the defense parents need to use when the hospital staff keep urging the drug on the mother and baby. It has also come to our attention that puppy breeders no longer widely use the drug because they lose too many puppies as a result. That’s not directly relative, to be sure, but it does suggest that puppy breeders have more investment in their breeding outcomes than the drug companies and the AMA have in any individual family’s investment in their child’s future.

  9. Sheryl Wilson says

    Oxygenating the brain has proven very helpful with our son. We are using a combination of oral L-arginine supplements and a mix of common, cheap blood pressure medication targeting specific brain vessels (per Dr. Hammesfahr in Florida). We had previously tried HBOT, one set of 40 sessions, but the biggest change we noted during that time frame (which was admittedly only a beginning for that type of therapy) is that before the oxygen dissipated out of our son’ts body after the last treatment he was indeed VERY normal in his behavior and cognition. The oxygen dissipation took about one-half week. Armed with that knowledge and having learned that vasodilation/oxygenation was probably the mechanism that had given us such advances with another therapy we had used very successfully (EEG–driven electromagnetic stimulation), we took our son to Florida for a 3-week workup with Dr. Hammesfahr (sometimes Medicare covers his costs, sometimes they don’t). One of the conclusions we’ve come to in understanding our son’s condition is that he probably suffered multiple TIA’s during the birthing process and is a stroke-at-birth victim — which is arguably what causes cerebral palsy.

    Dr. Hammesfahr recommends “low-BOT” instead of HBOT — cheaper, more portable, less dangerous and ultimately more effective when used along with the BP meds, he believes. Given our experiences with various therapist and learning from experience with various therapist that “less is more,” we think that’s true.

    Another approach we will be trying is homeopathically targeting the Pitocin in his system, and maybe some other things we are suspicious of, as well (e.g., aluminum, based on an early hair analysis).

    Interestingly, our son was breastfed until 14 months of age and has exhibited a high degree of sociability from an early age.
    He subsequently drank raw home-produced goat milk growing up, and to our current knowledge has no obvious food allergies. We have not tried him on GFCF diet as his appetite and reactions to (real) food has always been unremarkable; he does react quite clearly to caffeine and artificial red food coloring (the kind they put in all the baby-child medicines…)

    If (God forbid) you ever have to use Mellaril for your child, make sure it’s not the one with the red coating or you’ll just end up using more and more and more of it…that’s a warning from another family that we received timely. As it is, we never used any psychotropic drugs until we were forced to do so when our son was 16 and facing an out-of-home placement at a distance from us. Dr. Hammesfahr’s therapy has greatly reduced any dependence on psychotropic drugs by providing better oxygenation to the brain.

  10. Sheryl Wilson says

    Again, sorry…the highest incidence of autism in the Japanese study of synthetic oxytocin use was 19 percent — that’s 2 out of 10 babies — (British Lancet June 1991)


    I first learned of the study from Bernie Rimland’s autism newsletter and have been brining it to people’s attention ever since.



  11. admin says

    Dear Sheryl, all I could says is “WOW” and you have speak my mind. Thank you.

  12. Brandy says

    This information blows me away. My son is 2 and 1/2 and has been diagnosed as PDD-NOS. I did have both Pitocin and an epidural while in labor with him. I had both with my daughter as well; however, she has no issues. Also, I went into labor naturally with her. With him, I was induced. If only I had know then what I know now.

  13. admin says

    Hi Brandy, it is not what he is exposed to (pitocin and epidural etc) but how he was handled (he is induced).

  14. sarah spella says

    Hello! I am an Adapted PE Teacher for Portland Public Schools in Portland, Oregon. I am interested in any information regarding Autism (prognosis, cause, “cure”, strategies to help support espeically in reference to Motor Planning, Executive Functions, Sensory etc. Thank you so much for the info. on Pitocin- I had several Pitocin drips and was 38 when I had my son 8 yrs ago….blessed to say he is a typically developing boy- have had such a HUGE influx of ASD students on my caseload as compared to when I started in 1996 (about 550% increase!)

    Thank you so much for all you do in the name of support and advocacy for our ASD students!!!

    Sarah Spella
    Adapted PE Teacher
    17 yrs

  15. admin says

    Hi Sarah, try to peruse our website and see if you could gleam as much info as we have already have over 2 years weekly worth of autism information you could use. If not you could email us.

  16. admin says

    Hi WM, the dose for amino acids is not important but the amount of essential and non-essentail amino acids is the key. Make sure that your supplement contains all of them. The rule of thumb to take protein is 36g per 100 pounds body weight.

  17. Kelly Wuest says

    I have always said that all the drugs given to women during the birthing process are the ROOT cause of autism, along w/many additional mental disorders i.e. ADD/ADHD, depression, OCD etc. I work at a special needs preschool and I am appalled to see so MANY children w/these disorders and there are so many children with the disorders who haven’t even been diagnosed! I watch these birthing shows on t.v. and the first thing they want to administer to women is Pitocin. It’s a poison! And of course 9 out of 10 get epidurals! Hello, I think it is a no brainer there is a STRONG connection if not the sole cause!!

  18. Angela Goodman says

    I have an autistic 7yr old son. He was born at 36 weeks plus 5 days. I had pre-eclampsia and had to be induced with a pessery cream ( I think piticon). Less than two hrs after the doctor adminstering the first dose a midwife gave a second dose. I was adament I had had the first dose, but she had said to myself & my husband there was nothing written in the notes! I then went on to have an emergency c/section. The consultant saw me the next morning and said unfortunately a drug error had occurred. To this day I still wonder if the two doses of piticon so close together had caused his autism/or contributed to it. At the time I was just thankful my baby was alive and I felt better after the pre-eclampsia, however if there is a link I do hope it is found out soon so no other family have to go through what we have.

  19. Marlene Waechter says

    Angela, just for the record, it does not sound like Pitocin they used on you but Cervadil or Laminaria. I am a midwife & don’t like ANY artificial oxytocins! I agree w Justin’s comments. Pit, may or may not be related to Autism, along w many other factors. Yes, people want answers & are grasping at straws! I’d be curious to know… while 60% of autistic kids in the study had been exposed to pit in labor, what explains the other 40%? I have been practicing for over 35 yrs and have only had one autistic baby, that was about 10 yrs ago. The mom did not have any US’s, did not use a doppler, pitocin, or any other drugs, is RH neg but did not get the Rhogam during pregnancy, only after the birth, she home schools, Doesn’t not vaccinate, and they eat very healthily. baby had periodic seizure-like shudders during pregnancy, but the birth went fine, no complications. Continued to have these “shudders” even after birth, for a few days, then no more for about 8 yrs. He was dx’ed w autism at around 2 yrs. So, the question remains, what caused his autism? non of the suspected drugs or procedures were used in this case, so there must be some still undiscovered culpret out there.

  20. admin says

    Hello Marlene, this is why I discussed most often that it is not what you exposed to (although those ‘agents’ can worsen the autistic situation) but how you react to. In this case of a natural birth baby, he must have prenatal toxicity exposure, mom hormonal imbalance, emotional contribution, neurotransmitters imbalance and who knows as I am not there.

  21. Amber says

    Hi, my son is 6 months old, and i was was induced using oxytocin and i also was given the epidural. This information is really upsetting me and i wish i had known about this before giving birth :( . Is there any way to tell if a child has autism at such a young age??

  22. admin says

    Hi Amber,
    I have blog many times about this in my website but anyhow look for tell-tale signs such as multiple unresolved ‘stomach issues’, loss of eyes contact, speech and muscle tone once the baby attained it (for eg. if your baby can speak and then suddenly after a few months he stop), and hyperactive or unusual social behavior as reported by others. Good luck!

  23. britney kiser says

    I need to no if these pregences were at full term or pre- term. My son was born at 32 weeks with the use of these drugs. He has always had problems and they are getting worse. Please help me find out what I can do to help him.!!!!!!!!!

  24. chun says

    Hi Britney, most of these studies are based on full-term but of course they would be some pre-term. The fact is that Pitocin can affects neurology of the infant and most probably pre-term would be affected the most due to most organs (systems) being immatured.

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