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Electronic fetal monitoring devices may cause harm

In Oregon and around the country, obstetricians often use electronic fetal monitoring devices on pregnant patients. Large-scale trials using continuous EFM were done in the late 1980s, and it became clear that EFM was not lowering risks during birth. More research in the past 20 years has also shown this, but doctors still prefer to use it because of cultural reasons that include the increased medicalization of childbirth and obstetricians’ fear of a malpractice suit.

EFM use has been associated most with instrumental and C-section births, which lead to a higher risk of birth injuries, according to the American Academy of Nursing. Doctors cannot agree on the meaning of the EFM printouts, even though they think the heartbeat printout could help them in a malpractice suit. A medical center midwife says that a safer way to monitor the fetus heartbeat is intermittently using a stethoscope or fetoscope, and that only in a high-risk situation, such as inducing labor, is continuous monitoring helpful.

One example of how continuous EFM has contributed to health risks is the story of one mother. The device came off of the baby’s head during labor, and the doctor then decided to use a suction technique to remove the baby. The mother and baby both sustained an extractor injury because of this unneeded intervention. Another problem with the device is it can be uncomfortable for the mother to stay hooked to a machine that prevents her from moving during labor.

In the event that a negligent doctor causes birth injuries, an attorney may determine that filing a medical malpractice lawsuit is advisable. Damages commonly sought in such a civil action include medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Source: New Republic, “The Most Common Childbirth Practice in America Is Unnecessary and Dangerous”, Noah Berlatsky, Aug. 13, 2015