During the labor and delivery process, it is often necessary to monitor a baby’s heart rate to ensure they are getting sufficient oxygen and aren’t in distress. This is particularly important in labors that happen too early, last too long, are medically induced, or seem particularly intense. A fetal scalp electrode is one tool healthcare professionals can utilize to monitor a baby’s well-being during labor.
While a baby’s heart rate can be detected with standard fetal monitoring equipment placed on the mother’s belly, fetal scalp electrodes are the most accurate way to measure a baby’s heart rate and overall well-being during labor. After a woman’s water has broken, her cervix is at least 2 - 3 cm dilated, and the baby’s scalp can be visualized, a fetal scalp electrode can be applied. This is done by inserting a small spiral wire just under the skin of the baby’s scalp. Thin wires connect this electrode to a receiver that is usually strapped to the mother’s thigh. Once the scalp electrode has been placed, medical professionals can be more confident in their assessment that a baby is (or is not) in distress and in need of medical intervention.
While fetal scalp electrodes have the potential to save lives when used appropriately, they don’t come without risks. Unsurprisingly, they can frequently cause minor trauma to the scalp, but more severe complications are also possible. Scalp ulcers, bleeding under the scalp, abscesses, infection at the site of electrode insertion, and sepsis are all possible even when a fetal scalp electrode is used correctly.
Due to the risks associated with scalp electrodes, their use should be reserved for instances where the potential benefits are greater than the potential risks. There are several instances where scalp electrodes should be completely avoided, such as in the presence of maternal diseases like HIV, herpes, Group B strep, gonorrhea, and hepatitis B or C, or when there is a known or suspected neonatal clotting disorder.
Vacuum-assisted deliveries are typically not recommended while a scalp electrode is in place, as there’s an increased risk of scalp injury, bleeding under the scalp, and potentially lethal bleeding in the brain.
While some complications are unavoidable, others can directly result from a healthcare provider’s negligence. If a fetal scalp electrode is applied correctly, but the readings it provides aren’t noticed or acted upon promptly, an unrecognized medical emergency could result in birth injuries such as brain damage, cerebral palsy, and death.
If a scalp electrode is placed when the mother is known to have a disease such as HIV or hepatitis, then the doctor who ordered the placement of the electrode could be at fault if the baby is later discovered to have developed the same disease. A healthcare provider can also be found to be medically negligent if they place the electrode somewhere other than the scalp, such as in the eye or eyelid.
The electrode device manufacturer may also be at fault when complications occur if it can be proven that their device malfunctioned, such as a recent instance where electrode tips were breaking off during use and required surgical intervention to remove pieces of broken metal from babies’ skin.
If your child has suffered a severe injury due to a fetal scalp electrode complication, the legal team at Ross Feller Casey is ready to help.
Our attorneys and on-staff Ivy League-trained physicians have extensive experience dealing with birth injury cases, including those resulting in brain damage, cerebral palsy, and death. They will work together to examine your case and determine whether another doctor following current medical guidelines would have done things differently and whether medical negligence played a part in your child’s birth injury.
Consultations are free, and there’s no fee unless you win, so contact us today.
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