Obstetricians and nurses should carefully monitor a baby during labor and delivery in order to quickly identify and treat any type of fetal distress, indicated by changes in the fetal heart rate or changes in the baby’s movement. The primary way to detect fetal distress is through electronic fetal monitoring (EFM). EFM records both the mother’s contractions and the baby’s heartbeat in response to contractions. In EFM, transducers are attached to the mother (“external fetal monitoring”) or baby (“internal fetal monitoring”). Wires transfer data from the transducers to a machine that records and prints the information on strips for doctors and nurses to read.
Although EFM is fairly standard in hospitals today, sometimes doctors and nurses still fail to monitor their patients or improperly interpret monitor tracings. This can lead to debilitating birth injuries for the baby.
Birth Asphyxia as a Result of Improper Fetal Monitoring
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE or birth asphyxia) is a condition where the baby’s oxygen supply is diminished or cut off. This can happen for a variety of reasons:
- The umbilical cord could become compressed during labor and delivery
- The baby’s head can become severely compressed from contractions
- There may be uteroplacental insufficiency (insufficient amount of blood flowing to the placenta) caused by
When a baby is not receiving enough oxygen during labor and delivery, the fetal monitor will show “non-reassuring” results. When this happens, medical staff must take appropriate and timely action. Generally, staff try nursing interventions first to restore normal oxygenation to the baby. This includes giving the mother supplemental oxygen, changing the mother’s position, increasing IV fluids, and administering medications that subdue contractions and improve placental blood flow.
When fetal heart tones remain non-reassuring after nursing interventions, the baby must be delivered very quickly, usually by emergency C-section.
Types of Fetal Monitoring Errors
When a child experiences hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (birth asphyxia) at birth and is subsequently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, intellectual impairments, or learning disabilities, there is a chance that medical negligence occurred, which may be related to improper fetal monitoring. Some examples:
- Failure of medical professions to identify the maternal vs. the fetal heart rate
- Failure to adequately monitor uterine contractions
- Failure to correctly read the fetal monitoring device or strips
- Failure of the fetal monitoring device itself
- Failure or delay in taking appropriate action when signs of fetal distress are present such as performing an emergency C-section
What to Do if You Suspect Fetal Monitoring Errors During Labor and Delivery
Contact a birth injury lawyer from Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers today. We’ll review the medical records and determine if your child’s fetal monitor strips were ignored or misinterpreted. If you have a case, we will fight for you to win the money your child deserves for medical care and a secure future.
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