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The Top 6 Things You Need to Know About Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring and Birth Injury Lawsuits

  • Seeing inside the womb: Many years ago, it was discovered that certain patterns of the fetal heart rate showed whether the baby was doing well, or was in distress in the womb.  As a result, doctors and nurses started monitoring the fetal heart rate during labour and delivery to ensure that the baby is tolerating labour well.  

  • Modern standard is electronic: Continuous, electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) is the standard way of monitoring the baby’s heart rate during labour and delivery.  The EFM produces a “strip” that the doctors and nurses review to determine the pattern of the fetal heart rate and reassure themselves that the baby is ok.

  • Baby’s SOS: If the baby is not doing well, the fetal heart rate most often will drop, called a deceleration.  Sudden drops in the fetal heart rate (called variable decelerations) are associated with compression of the umbilical cord.  More gradual drops in the fetal heart rate that occur after a contraction (called a late deceleration) are thought to be associated with fetal acidosis from hypoxia, where the baby is unable to react to the stresses of a contraction.

  • Medical practitioners need to act: Doctors, midwives and nurses are expected to know how to interpret the fetal heart rate patterns and intervene if the fetal heart rate pattern shows a baby that is in trouble.   If the baby is in trouble and the medical practitioners (doctors, midwives and nurses) don’t intervene to expedite delivery either through a caesarean section or immediate vaginal delivery if possible, the baby can sustain prolonged oxygen deprivation that causes a brain injury like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy resulting in cerebral palsy.

  • Foundation of medical malpractice lawsuits: Birth injury lawsuits will arise in cases with poor fetal heart monitoring when the medical practitioners don’t move to immediate delivery in the face of a poor EFM strip, or they do not monitor the fetal heart rate appropriately, and the baby sustains a brain injury.   

  • Families often don’t know: Many of our birth injury clients come to us not because their doctor or hospital told them that their child suffered a preventable brain injury, but because another family told them about the possibility that their child’s injuries were preventable. If you believe, or even wonder if, your family has been impacted by a failure of a medical practitioner to prevent your child’s injuries, the team at Weir Bowen LLP would be happy to speak to you at no cost to you.

By Shelagh McGregor