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Electronic fetal monitoring linked to increased childbirth risks

When North Carolina women have electronic fetal monitors placed on them during labor, they may not realize that studies show that they can often lead to more problems than they prevent. Electronic fetal monitors come in both internal and external styles. They measure the fetal heart rate with the purported purpose of alerting an obstetrician to an emergency. Their widespread use in delivery rooms, however, has shown no association with a reduction in infant deaths or birth injuries.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed controlled studies of electronic fetal monitoring 20 years ago, no reduction in maternal or infant deaths was found. The practice did correlate with an increased incidence in C-section deliveries, which introduce surgical risks for mothers. A recent 2013 study sponsored by the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group reached the same conclusion. Despite a glaring lack of any positive benefits and an association with unnecessary interventions, the practice has increased in the United States significantly since 1980.

Patients are largely unaware of the risks associated with this common practice. Delivery room doctors support their use because they believe printed records from the monitors could protect them from malpractice lawsuits, but interpretation of these records varies tremendously. One analysis of court cases revealed that a panel of four physicians could only agree on interpretations in 22 percent of cases.

This monitoring contributes to the chances of a medical error during delivery. A woman experiencing complications after an unnecessary C-section or vacuum delivery might choose to discuss her situation with an attorney. If evidence points to an error during labor, then an attorney might recommend filing a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking damages from the responsible parties.

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Daniel Pleasant Holoman LLP

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