In hopes of helping medical professionals identify problems faster, a number of technological advancement have been made over the last few decades. One of these advancements is the fetal heart rate monitor.

Created in the hopes of reducing the number of babies born with cerebral palsy and other birth injuries associated with oxygen deprivation and fetal distress, fetal heart monitoring (FHRM) has fallen under scrutiny over the years because of some studies that have called into question its effectiveness to indicate true fetal distress.

While there is no denying that FHRM can give mothers peace of mind, the speculation that it causes more harm than good needs to be scrutinized. It's important for us to look at all points of view before making any final determinations about whether FHRM should continue to be one of the most common obstetrical procedures used today.

The Good

For a majority of first-time moms, going into labor can be incredibly scary because there is so much to take in and so much that could go wrong. Women trust, however, that the doctors and nurses who are taking care of them know what they're doing and will be able to quickly identify and correct a problem before it results in a serious birth injury.

As we said above, FHRM gives mothers peace of mind because it shows doctors and nurses how the baby is reacting to contractions and whether the baby's heart rate pattern is normal or not, explains the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When data suggests that there is a problem, health care providers can intervene by delivering the baby right away.

The Bad

There are a few studies that would have us believe, however, that FHRM isn't as beneficial as we think. In a 2012 article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, FHRM, referred to as electronic fetal monitoring in the article, is called "ineffectual" when it comes to predicting fetal distress because it has a 99 [percent] false-positive prediction rate. A 2011 publication Graham Gaylord Ashmead, MD, FACOG, goes one step further by pointing out that even in situations where clinicians are shown the same FHRM data, "...clinicians disagree with each other in their evaluation of [fetal heart rate] about 80 [percent] of the time."

While it's important for medical professionals to act quickly when a baby is in distress, some believe that differing interpretations of FHR can lead to overreactions in some cases, which could be one of the reasons why we have seen an increase in the rate of unnecessary cesarean deliveries in our country.

The Ugly

Whether you believe FHRM is effective or not, the fact of the matter remains: failing to properly diagnose and address fetal distress can lead to serious permanent birth injuries such as cerebral palsy, acidosis and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, just to name a few.

In most cases, a birth injury causes some degree of disability that can result in steep medical bills due to ongoing treatment and long-term health care, loss of ability to work later in life and the loss of enjoyment of life. Oftentimes, when birth injuries are the result of medical negligence, these are the costs most called attention to in a medical malpractice claim.


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