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Failure to Read Fetal Heart Rate & Birth Injuries

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:

  • Tachycardia
  • Bradycardia
  • 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, including brain damage and conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Fighting for Victims of Negligence

When preventable 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 negligent conductmore 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, & Blanco 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.

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