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During labor and delivery, doctors should monitor your baby’s heartbeat with an electronic fetal heart rate monitor. This is to detect when the baby is experiencing distress that may indicate something is wrong. Fetal heartrate monitoring can save unborn babies from serious, neurological injury.

Failing to carefully monitor the baby’s heart rate can cause healthcare providers to miss serious health complications, including oxygen deprivation, brain damage, and cerebral palsy. Proper monitoring is particularly important when the mother has been given Pitocin (Oxytocin), a powerful drug that can cause the mother’s uterus to contract too fast or too hard (Hyper-stimulation or Tachysystole), increasing the risk of birth injuries.

How Doctors Should Use Fetal Heartrate Monitoring

The average baby’s heart beats between 110 and 160 times per minute. Extreme fluctuations, like slowed heart rate, can indicate serious problems. One of the most common causes of an abnormal heart rate is that the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. When it goes undetected and untreated, oxygen deprivation (also called Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE) can cause brain damage, cerebral palsy, and wrongful death.

What doctors should look for:

  • Tachycardia (fetal heart rate is too fast)
  • Bradycardia (fetal heart rate is too slow)
  • Decelerations of the baby’s heart
  • Hyper-stimulation or tachysystole of the mom’s uterus

Fetal Heart Strips & Brain Injuries

Anoxic and hypoxic brain injuries are preventable. Because doctors and nurses can monitor babies’ heart rates, warning signs of oxygen deprivation and fetal brain injury should not go unnoticed. In most cases, one of the following is responsible for fetal anoxic brain injury:

  • The doctor misdiagnosed the fetal heart strip and failed to perform a timely c-section.
  • Student residents did not notify the attending OB of non-reassuring status
    on the fetal heart strip.
  • Nursing staff misread or simply did not know how to read the fetal heart
    strip and did not identify a problem.
  • The doctor or nurse did not pay attention to the fetal heart strip or ignored
    the pattern on the strip.

The Dangers of Fetal Heart Strip Mistakes

During labor and delivery, oxygen deprivation can lead to several types of neurological damage. Some of the most common are:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis (partial or quadriplegia)
  • Brain damage,
  • Stroke

These conditions can develop if doctors fail to monitor fetal heart rate properly – even if the mother and baby experience no other complications during the pregnancy.

Legal Recourse for Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring Errors

When sub-standard fetal heart rate monitoring results in injury to a newborn, it can be a devastating experience for any family. Understanding your legal options is crucial if you suspect that medical negligence played a role in your child’s birth injury. Here’s how parents can navigate these complex situations:

Identifying Medical Negligence

Medical negligence occurs when healthcare providers fail to meet the standard of care that a reasonably competent medical professional would have provided under similar circumstances.

In the context of fetal heart rate monitoring, negligence may involve failing to detect or appropriately respond to signs of fetal distress, the incorrect use of monitoring equipment, or not taking necessary actions based on the monitor’s readings.

Steps to Take if You Suspect Negligence

  1. Medical Records Review: Obtain all medical records related to the labor and delivery. These documents contain critical information that could be used as evidence, including nurse and doctor notes, test results, and details about the monitoring process.
  2. Consult a Birth Injury Attorney: Speak with an attorney who specializes in birth injury cases. They can provide a comprehensive evaluation of your case and help determine if medical negligence occurred.
  3. Expert Consultation: Your attorney will likely consult with medical experts who specialize in maternal-fetal medicine. These experts can review the records to assess whether the medical team adhered to standard practices or if their actions (or inactions) contributed to the injury.

Legal Claims and Compensation

If negligence is established, you may be able to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages. This compensation can cover various needs, including:

  • Medical expenses: Current and future medical bills related to the birth injury.
  • Rehabilitation costs: Expenses for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation services your child may need in the future as a result of their birth injury.
  • Special education costs: If the child needs special educational services due to the injury.
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for the physical and emotional distress suffered by the child and the family.
  • Loss of earning potential: If the injury impacts the child’s ability to earn income in the future.

Statute of Limitations

It’s important to act quickly, as there are legal time limits, known as statutes of limitations, which dictate how long you have to file a claim. These time limits can vary in some circumstances, so promptly consulting with a birth injury attorney can ensure you do not forfeit your right to seek justice.

The Role of Your Attorney

A skilled birth injury attorney can manage all aspects of your legal claim, from the initial investigation and gathering of evidence to negotiating settlements or representing your interests in court. Their goal is to ensure that you receive the maximum compensation possible and that your child’s needs are met both now and in the future.

What to Do If Your Child Suffered a Brain Injury at Birth

If you believe a negligent doctor or hospital caused your child’s birth injury, the Chicago birth injury attorneys at Beam Legal Team can help.
Beam Legal Team has decades of experience helping families get the compensation their children deserve. Simply pick up the phone and contact our office for a free, no-obligation evaluation of your case.

Originally published September 6, 2016. Updated on May 17, 2024.