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Fetal Monitoring

Daisy Rogozinsky
August 18, 2022

Fetal monitoring can be an important way to check the health of a fetus. In this article, we’ll define the term “fetal monitoring” and explain how it relates to birth injury.

Key Takeaways

  • Fetal monitoring is a way to check a fetus’s health during pregnancy and labor
  • Fetal monitoring can be done both internally and externally 
  • One of the main things monitored in fetal monitoring is the heart rate
  • There are several types of fetal monitoring including electronic fetal monitoring, mobile electronic fetal monitoring, and intermittent auscultation
  • A failure to properly monitor a fetus can lead to complications and birth injury 

What Is Fetal Monitoring?

Fetal monitoring is used to check the health of a fetus during pregnancy and labor. It’s a very common procedure that can be done both internally and externally. 

External monitoring is done with a tool called a fetoscope, essentially a stethoscope with a different shape. It can also be done using the Doppler device, an electronic tool that works via sound waves.

Internal monitoring is done by putting an electrode on the baby’s head while they are inside the uterus. 

One of the main things monitored through fetal monitoring is the baby’s heart rate. Through fetal heart rate monitoring, doctors can check the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat, look for increases or decreases, and track how much the heart rate changes. The normal range for a fetal heart rate is between 110 and 160 beats per minute. An abnormal fetal heart rate can be indicative of a lack of oxygen or other problems. Sometimes it indicates that an emergency C-section is required.

Types of Fetal Monitoring

There are several types of fetal monitoring including:

  • Electronic fetal monitoring - Electronic fetal monitoring (EFM), also called cardiotocography (CTG) involves monitoring the fetus’s heart rate with an ultrasound machine at the same time as monitoring the mother’s contractions with a pressure sensor. This assesses how the baseline fetal heart rate changes with contractions. EFM can be used either continually or intermittently. 
  • Mobile electronic fetal monitoring - Some hospitals have wireless, waterproof electronic fetal monitors that can be used in different active labor positions. 
  • Intermittent auscultation - Intermittent auscultation, also called hands-on-listening, allows care providers to listen to the fetal heart rate for short periods of time at regular intervals. This can be done using several devices including the handheld fetal Doppler ultrasound device or a fetal stethoscope. The provider may feel the mother’s contractions at the same time by placing a hand on the abdomen. 

Who Needs Fetal Monitoring?

Fetal monitoring is especially helpful for people with:

  • A high-risk pregnancy
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • A fetus that is not developing properly

Benefits and Risks of Fetal Monitoring

The benefits of fetal monitoring include helping find potential problems in the fetus and indicating the need for more testing or alternative delivery methods. 

Risks of fetal monitoring include infection, fetus scalp injury, and an increased chance of forceps, vacuum, or C-section delivery. 

Fetal Monitoring and Birth Injury

When a medical practitioner fails to properly monitor a fetus, it can lead to issues like:

  • Developmental delays
  • Hypoxia/apoxia
  • Brain damage
  • Paralysis
  • Placental abruption
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Stillbirth

Errors in fetal monitoring include:

  • Failure to determine that a mother requires more regular or continuous fetal monitoring
  • Failure to take immediate action when signs of fetal distress are present
  • Failure to correctly read a fetal monitor
  • Failure to identify abnormal fetal heart rhythms 

If your baby was injured during delivery because improper fetal monitoring led to avoidable injury, you might be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. It is recommended to speak to an experienced birth injury doctor who will help you determine whether or not you have a case and how to proceed.

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