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What is Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring?

Fetal monitoring is defined as watching the baby’s heart rate for indicators of stress.  It is a tool to help doctors diagnose and treat potential problems during pregnancy, labor and after birth.  If a baby is not appropriately monitored, medical malpractice can occur and cause serious injury to your newborn. Many people trust the Pittsburgh area hospitals to treat their newborn, but if they get injured it can have a devastating impact on you and your family.

Birth injuries can cause permanent damage or even be fatal. If your newborn has suffered a birth injury at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, you should seek out experienced medical malpractice attorneys to represent you and litigate your claim. Children are our future, and if a hospital was negligent in the handling of your child and a birth injury occurs, you deserve to have lawyers who will fight for your family every step of the way to get you the compensation you deserve. Contact the Pittsburgh birth injury lawyers at Berger Lagnese & Paul, LLC today to schedule a free consultation for your medical malpractice claim.

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What is auscultation?

There are two methods of fetal heart rate monitoring: auscultation and electronic fetal monitoring. Auscultation is a method of listening to the internal sounds of the body. A fetoscope is a special type of stethoscope used to listen to a fetal heartbeat.

What is an electronic fetal monitor?

An electronic fetal monitor, or EFM, is a device for observing and recording the heart rate of a fetus, and for keeping track of the frequency, length, and strength of contractions during labor.  The machine used to perform the monitoring is called a cardiotocograph. It continuously prints out a record of both the fetal heart rate, and the duration and frequency of the contractions, so that deviations from normal patterns can be identified.  Electronic fetal monitoring can be external or internal.

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What is external fetal monitoring?

External monitoring utilizes ultrasound waves to monitor fetal health. This method is performed using a hand-held Doppler ultrasound probe to listen to and count the fetal heart rate during a contraction to identify fetal response. It may also be performed using an external transducer, which is placed on the maternal abdomen and held in place by an elastic belt or girdle. The transducer uses Doppler ultrasound to detect fetal heart motion and is connected to a fetal heart rate monitor. The monitor calculates and records the fetal heart rate on a continuous strip of paper.

What is internal fetal monitoring?

If it becomes difficult to detect the fetal heart rate with the external monitor or if there are subtle signs of a developing problem, an internal monitor may be used.  Internal monitoring is monitoring with an electrode attached to the baby’s head to record heart tones, and a pressure catheter to record contractions.  A spiral wire, called the fetal scalp electrode, is placed just beneath the skin of the baby’s scalp. The fetal scalp electrode then transmits direct information about the fetus’ heart rate through the wire to the fetal monitor that prints out this information. Because the internal fetal monitor is attached directly to the baby, the fetal heart rate signal is sometimes much clearer and more consistent than with an external monitoring device.

One benefit of electronic fetal monitoring is to detect early fetal distress resulting from fetal hypoxia.  The average fetal heart rate is between 110 and 160 beats per minute.  Fetal hypoxia occurs as a result of deprivation of oxygen to the fetus, which has been implicated as a cause of cerebral palsy.

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Although detection of fetal distress is one benefit of fetal monitoring, there are also risks.  The major risk associated with electronic fetal heart rate monitoring is a false positive test that may result in unnecessary surgical intervention such as cesarean section or a delivery by forceps or vacuum.  A false positive result is when the information is interpreted as indicating distress but there is no fetal distress.  A false negative may result when the information from monitoring indicates that the baby is healthy but the baby is born with problems. This type of error is less common.

Other minor risks of fetal monitoring may arise when internal monitoring is necessary.  Internal monitoring requires a small wire to be placed beneath the skin of the baby’s scalp. This results in a small break in the skin that usually heals without a problem, but in rare cases may result in bleeding or a skin infection.  This infection may cause fever during labor.

This year the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) revised its guidelines on fetal heart rate monitoring, which were published in the July issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Contact Our Experienced Birth Injury and Medical Malpractice Attorneys at Berger Lagnese & Paul, LLC Today for Your Free Consultation

If you have experienced improper fetal monitoring, you will want to schedule an appointment with an experienced birth injury attorney. Improper fetal monitoring could lead to serious, permanent injury or If you went to a hospital in the Pittsburgh area, such as St. Clair Hospital or Forbes Hospital, you will need quality representation. Contact the Pittsburgh birth injury attorneys at Berger Lagnese & Paul, LLC for a free consultation. Our office is located at 310 Grant St #720, Pittsburgh, PA 15219 and consultations can be scheduled either online here or over the phone at (412) 471-4300.

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