What Does A Low Fetal Heart Rate Mean For The Baby?


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A baby’s heart rate is usually monitored during labor and delivery. It’s done to ensure that the baby’s heart rate is within the normal range, that the baby isn’t in distress, and to allow for prompt action if the heart rate is too high or too low. Keeping track of the baby’s heart rate tells doctors how the baby is handling contractions and whether there is any need for medical intervention. When a baby’s heart rate is too low during labor and delivery, a condition called bradycardia, it may become necessary to perform an emergency C-section.

If a doctor fails to recognize that a fetal heart rate is too low, or the doctor doesn’t act promptly, the baby may suffer serious medical complications. Additionally, when this happens, parents may need to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor.

What Is Bradycardia?

Bradycardia is the medical term for a slow heart rate. During labor and delivery, an abnormally slow fetal heart rate is frequently the first sign that a baby is in distress. The normal heart rate for a baby during childbirth falls between 110 and 160 beats per minute. If the baby’s heart rate goes below 110 for several minutes, or under 100 for more than three minutes, then prompt action should be taken by medical professionals. A low fetal heart rate means that the baby may not be getting a sufficient amount of oxygen to the brain. Often, this means a C-section is required.

How Is Fetal Heart Rate Monitored?

There are two types of fetal heart rate monitoring – external and internal. External fetal heart monitoring is typically used during labor and delivery of low-risk pregnancies. It uses external devices to listen and record the baby’s heart rate through the abdomen of the expectant mother. This is usually done with an ultrasound transducer that is attached to the mother’s abdomen with straps. The device transmits the heart rate pattern to a connected computer that displays the data on a screen and prints it on paper.

Internal fetal heart monitoring is much different. This method is typically used for higher-risk pregnancies and those mothers who started with external monitoring but failed to get good readings with that method. Internal monitoring uses a thin wire electrode that is attached to the scalp of the baby through the mother’s cervix. This type of monitoring gives better readings, but it can only be done when the baby is in the right position.

What Causes A Low Fetal Heart Rate?

There are various factors that can play a part in an abnormal fetal heart rate. Some of those factors include:

  • Underlying conditions in the mother, including infection, fever, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, adverse reaction to anesthesia (including epidural medication), or any other health issue that may cause oxygen flow to be compromised.
  • Complications during labor, including uterine rupture, placental abruption, or umbilical cord compression.
  • Birth complications that are due to improper or insufficient fetal heart rate monitoring.

If medical professionals fail to monitor the baby’s heart rate properly, there may be serious complications that occur. Some of those injuries include:

  • Brain damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Paralysis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Hypoxia or anoxia (partial or complete oxygen deprivation)
  • Stillbirth

The severity of the injuries that might occur to the baby when its heart rate is too low depends on how long the baby was improperly treated. Bradycardia can lead to medical conditions that range from temporary and treatable to disabilities and medical conditions that last a lifetime, or even up to wrongful death. These situations can take a tremendous toll on the baby and family, both emotionally and financially.

Get Help From An Experienced Birth Injury Lawyer

Birth injuries that result from bradycardia during labor and delivery can be devastating to families. The cost of medical care, some that may be required for a lifetime, is huge – many times more than a family can handle. Additionally, medical conditions caused by a low fetal heart rate that isn’t properly treated will be physically challenging for the child and emotionally challenging for the whole family. While financial compensation won’t make up for the suffering the family goes through, it can certainly help relieve the financial burden the parents face.

That’s why finding an experienced birth injury attorney is so important in cases of bradycardia that resulted in injuries. At Ross Feller Casey, we have those experienced birth injury attorneys as well as medical doctors on staff to review medical records. Let us help you with your case. We can determine if yours is a case of medical malpractice. And, if it is, we will help you secure the compensation that you deserve – as we have with many other families who have also experienced bradycardia-related injuries.

Contact our office today to schedule your free case review with one of our birth injury lawyers. All our medical malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means you don’t have to pay anything unless we win.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.