Tell-Tale Heart Rate Monitoring Errors
During labor and delivery, it’s crucial that doctors pay close attention to the vital signs of both the mother and child. Heart rate in particular can be a very strong indicator of how well a baby is handling the delivery process.
During labor and delivery, it’s perfectly normal for the baby’s heart rate to fluctuate. As the mother experiences contractions, it’s healthy for the baby’s heart rate to vary a little bit from what it normally is. As long as the baby’s heart rate returns to its baseline level, it’s a sign that the baby is healthy and is getting enough oxygen to be able to survive delivery. But if the baby’s heart rate is consistently too low or too high, or not varying at all, it could be a sign that the baby is in distress and might not be getting enough oxygen.
When it becomes clear that a child is in distress and isn’t getting enough oxygen, it’s very important that doctors act quickly to prevent serious injury or death. If fetal heart monitoring isn’t used correctly or isn’t used when it should have been, the baby can be born with injuries such as brain damage, cerebral palsy, nerve damage, or paralysis. As the child grows, they could experience developmental delays. In the most severe cases, the child could die.
How often fetal monitoring should be used largely depends on the health of the mother and child and how well labor is progressing. There are two different types of fetal monitoring: continuous and intermittent. In the case of a mother who has had a healthy, low-risk pregnancy and doesn’t develop any complications during delivery, her doctor might decide to use intermittent heart monitoring, only checking the baby’s heart rate at certain intervals. This isn’t necessarily a bad practice; many organizations, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Nurse-Midwives, endorse intermittent fetal monitoring in low-risk situations. But if labor becomes more complicated, it’s important that they start monitoring more frequently.
Continuous monitoring is often advisable if the mother has health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or an otherwise high-risk pregnancy. A doctor might also want to use continuous heart monitoring if drugs are used, such as an epidural or Pitocin to induce labor, since the medication can impact the baby’s heart rate.
Fetal heart monitoring can also be done either internally or externally. With external heart monitoring, a belt is placed around the mother’s abdomen, but internal monitoring involves placing a sensor on the baby’s head. Since the process of placing the sensor on the child for internal monitoring can cause bacteria from the mother’s body to transfer to the baby, it shouldn’t be used if the mother has HIV or another highly transferrable infection.
If you believe your child was born with an injury that could have been prevented with proper fetal monitoring, contact a birth trauma lawyer as soon as possible. It’s an extremely upsetting situation to be in and you don’t have to go through it alone. Birth injury cases can be very complicated and a lawyer will be able to evaluate your case and help you understand your legal options.