Can my baby’s heart rate be monitored during a C-section?

Yes. Electronic fetal monitoring is critical not only in labor and vaginal delivery but also during Cesarean sections (C-sections). When performing a C-section, medical professionals must ensure that fetal heart rate monitoring is done as continuously as possible. Sometimes there is an interruption in fetal monitoring from the time when the monitor is removed (which occurs when the mother’s abdomen is sterilized in preparation for surgery) until the time the baby is delivered. This time interval should be minimized, and in many cases, there should be no interruption in fetal monitoring. If there is, signs of fetal distress, such as an unusually low heart rate, may be missed. Fetal distress means that a baby is being deprived of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can cause permanent brain damage in a baby, such as cerebral palsy and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Methods of Sterile Monitoring

Babies must be monitored at crucial times before, during, and after delivery. There are a few effective ways of monitoring the baby’s heart rate during the sterile procedure of a C-section delivery:

  • Doppler monitor with a sterilizable probe
  • Doppler monitor and probe with a condom or sterile glove placed over the probe
  • Internal fetal scalp monitor. The electrode can be left on the baby until the head is delivered. At delivery, the wire can be cut and pulled out through the vagina.

Anesthesia and Fetal Heart Monitoring

Fetal monitoring is important during C-sections in which the mother has been given general anesthesia because general anesthesia can negatively impact the fetus (the risk is higher in infants who have exhibited signs of fetal distress prior to surgery). However, it is important to note that local anesthesia may take effect more slowly than general anesthesia. While waiting for the mother to be satisfactorily anesthetized, doctors and nurses should carefully monitor the baby to make sure that the delay is not negatively affecting them. If there are signs of fetal distress, they may need to intervene, for example by administering general anesthesia so that they can operate sooner.

Medical Team Must Work Together

During a C-section delivery, there must be enough skilled professionals to allow for one person to monitor the baby while other members of the team prepare for and conduct the operation. The team should carefully keep track of any times in which the fetal monitor is detached or not working, as well as any periods during which the infant is showing signs of distress. They must effectively communicate with one another so that informed decisions are made. This is especially important when there are issues pertaining to the status of the baby versus the mother having proper anesthesia or various treatments that may be necessary for the mother’s health.

Maternal Consent

Not only is it critical for members of the medical team to be informed of all aspects involving the baby and the surgery, but also for the mother to be included in decisions. Doctors must explain to her the risks and benefits of various courses of action, and discuss any alternative options. Failure to do so constitutes medical malpractice.

Legal Help for Birth Injuries From Improperly Managed C-Sections

If a physician fails to continuously monitor a high-risk or distressed baby during a C-section delivery, it is negligence. Delaying an indicated emergency C-section also constitutes negligence. If this negligence causes injury to the mother or baby, it is medical malpractice.

The award-winning birth injury attorneys at ABC Law Centers have been helping clients across the United States since 1997. Our attorneys solely focus on birth injury cases, and we have handled and won dozens of cases involving C-section mistakes leading to disabilities such as cerebral palsy and HIE. These conditions can require a lifetime of medical attention, care, and therapy, which can be very costly. Let our attorneys fight for the compensation you and your child need. Contact us today for a free legal consultation.

The information presented above is intended only to be a general educational resource. It is not intended to be (and should not be interpreted as) medical advice. If you have questions about fetal monitoring during cesarean sections, please consult with a medical professional.

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