Monitoring an unborn baby’s heart rate during labor and delivery
can alert nurses and medical staff to potential complications and medical
emergencies that must be promptly addressed. Should a baby’s heart
rate become too high or too low, for example, it may indicate fetal distress
caused by oxygen deprivation and the need for an emergency C-section.
In order to ensure a baby is tolerating the birth process and identify
any complications, nurses and staff use electronic fetal heart rate monitors.
These devices provide readouts that must be interpreted by attending medical
staff. Should they fail to read fetal heart rate, or interpret readouts
properly, they can miss signs of distress and opportunities to avert serious,
neurological injuries that could have otherwise been avoided.
Failing to read or accurately monitor and interpret fetal heart rate can
cause nurses and doctors to miss certain complications, including:
Heart rate greater than 160 (tachycardia) – When fetal heart rate is too high, it may be a sign that a baby’s
heart needs to work harder than normal to offset low oxygen conditions
and pump blood and oxygen to the rest of the body.
Heart rate lower than 110 to 120, for an extended period of time (bradycardia) – A baby’s heart rate can drop when they become unable to
maintain a rapid heartbeat and pump blood and oxygen through their body.
This can cause hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, to set in.
By accurately and consistently monitoring fetal heart rate, nurses can
establish a normal variability of the baby’s heart rate (meaning
that it fluctuates, rises, and falls and varies constantly from baseline
in a normal manner). Normal variability shows a healthy cardiac system,
and is known as a reassuring heart rate. It means the baby is receiving
enough oxygen and tolerating delivery.
In some cases during delivery, the baby’s heart rate may be helped
when nurses change the mother’s position, administer oxygen or IV
fluids to the mother, or administer medications to subdue contractions.
In other cases, an emergency C-section may need to be performed, especially
when nurses identify a non-reassuring heart rate, which may include:
- Decreased heart rate variability
- Variable decelerations that begin to last longer
- Heart rate being slow to return to baseline after a contraction
Appropriate and timely action must be taken when fetal distress is identified,
including emergency C-section by a doctor. However, when nurses and staff
fail to read fetal heart rate during delivery, or can’t read it
due to lack of skill or negligence, it is less likely they will notify
doctors to intervene before oxygen deprivation has occurred. As a result,
babies face increased risks of being born with preventable birth injuries,
brain damage and conditions such as
Fighting for Victims of Negligence
birth injuries results from the substandard care of nurses and medical staff –
including failures to read fetal heart rate – victims and families
have the right to take legal action and hold them accountable for negligence.
Birth injury lawsuits that successfully prove a medical professional’s
more likely than not resulted in harm will allow victims to recover their damages and secure
the financial compensation they need.
For more information about fetal heart rate monitoring errors, delayed
C-sections or failures to perform C-sections, and birth injury lawsuits,
contact Shrager & Sachs for a free consultation. Our medical malpractice lawyers
have extensive experience handling birth injury cases for victims and
families across Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.