During labor and delivery, doctors and nurses should be constantly aware that there are two patients—both the mother and the child. Even though the baby has not yet been born, it is imperative that a medical team remain aware of the condition of the baby to prevent any unnecessary injuries during birth. One important task for any hospital birth center is to properly monitor the fetal heart rate of the infant during labor and delivery.
If you think that your child sustained injuries because the doctors did not correctly monitor a fetal heart rate, identify signs of possible fetal distress, or react to a potentially harmful situation fast enough, you may have rights under Florida medical malpractice laws. The attorneys at Dolman Law Group have experience handling birth injury cases arising from many different types of negligence, so please do not hesitate to contact our office for more information today.
How Fetal Monitoring Works
Contractions during labor are not only stressful on the mother, but they can also cause distress for the baby. Such distress may require an emergency response from your medical team—such as an emergency C-section—to prevent serious injury to the child. An important way that doctors can tell whether a child is in distress is by paying attention to her heart rate.
Doctors can monitor fetal heart rate in two ways:
- Using an external monitor attached to a belt around the mother’s stomach, which monitors the fetal heart rate as well as the mother’s contractions.
- Internal monitor that can be placed on the baby’s scalp once the baby is positioned properly in the birth canal and the mother is adequately dilated.
Each type of monitor transfers heart rate information to a graph that the nurses or doctors can track. If a baby seems to be in great shape and no complications are anticipated, your baby’s heart rate may be monitored intermittently, such as once an hour. However, if the doctors have any concerns about complications, health issues, or possible distress, the monitor may be set to continuously monitor the fetal heart rate.
Troubling Fetal Heart Rate Patterns
An unborn baby’s heart rate prior to birth is often faster than it will be after birth when the baby’s system transfers to pulmonary respiration from placental respiration. Prior to this transition, a healthy heart rate is generally considered to be between 110 and 160 beats per minute. A baby’s heart rate can also vary and still be healthy. For example, when a mother has a contraction, fetal heart rate will often drop. It is important that the baby’s heart rate goes back up once a contraction is over. This type of variation is considered to be reassuring that the baby has enough oxygen to safely make it through the often stressful labor and delivery process.
There are a number of factors that can indicate a nonreassuring fetal heart rate and signal that there may be higher risks of injury during the birth. Such factors can include:
- Extended periods of tachycardia, which is a heart rate above 160 beats per minute
- Extended periods of bradycardia, which is a heart rate below 110 beats per minute
- Lack of heart rate variation with contractions or fetal movement
If any of these situations exist, the medical team should notice and determine how to respond to the potentially harmful situation.
Risks of Improper Heart Rate Monitoring
Improper monitoring of fetal heart rate can lead to many complications during birth and injuries to the baby as a result. The following are some of the injuries that can result if doctors fail to respond to signs of distress in the baby:
- Anoxia or hypoxia (complete or partial deprivation of oxygen)
- Brain damage
- Cerebral palsy
- Nerve damage
- Placental abruption
If your child has cerebral palsy or any other type of brain damage, he may live with the effects of that injury for the rest of his life, experiencing physical and cognitive developmental delays and impairments. If your child is paralyzed or has serious physical disabilities due to cerebral palsy, she may need medical and assistive equipment such as wheelchairs or walkers for her entire life.
Such conditions can completely change the course of otherwise healthy children’s lives, often limiting their ability to participate in certain activities with other children. In addition, they may require special education services, and their professional and educational opportunities may be limited. When considering the child’s entire future, the overall losses from a serious birth injury can be extensive.
Was Your Hospital Negligent?
Not every mistake made during birth can lead to a legal claim for compensation. Instead, parents must prove that the doctor or hospital team acted in a medically negligent manner. Some forms of negligence by hospital staff regarding fetal monitoring can include:
- Not identifying abnormal heart variations or rhythms
- Not performing continuous monitoring when it should have been necessary
- Not properly operating or installing a monitoring device
- Misreading the mother’s heart rate as the baby’s or vice versa
- Failing to take necessary action if signs of distress arise
These are only some of the ways in which fetal monitoring mistakes can lead to a medical malpractice claim if your child was injured during birth.
Discuss Your Situation with a Clearwater Birth Injury Attorney Today
Determining whether a birth injury was preventable or not can be a complex and confusing task. The birth injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group can review what happened and help you decide whether your doctor’s actions constituted medical malpractice. If so, we can assist you with every step of the legal process to help you hold your doctor or hospital liable for all of your losses.
Our legal team understands that dealing with the effects of a birth injury can be difficult. We work to keep as much stress off of our clients as possible during a case so that they can focus on adjusting to life with their new child. We provide committed and personalized representation and always keep clients informed. Please contact our office at 727-451-6900 to schedule your free case evaluation today.