Electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) first appeared in hospitals in the 1970s, and by the early '1980s, close to 50 percent of births were managed with the technology. Before its use, physicians and midwives in Maryland and elsewhere depended on the intermittent use of fetoscopes, an adaptation of the more commonly used stethoscope, to check on the status of unborn children during the perinatal period. With only occasional checks, some incidents of fetal distress went unnoticed during stretches of labor, and a few of the infants suffered brain damage and subsequently conditions such as cerebral palsy.
Today, at least 85 percent of laboring women in hospitals are monitored upon admission and intermittently until delivery. Since EFM's widespread use over the last few decades, health professionals have been able to ascertain useful information by comparing fluctuating heart rate patterns as they relate to uterine contractions. Specially trained doctors and nurses are usually able to determine whether heart rate drops are due to placental insufficiency, cord compression or a normal response to head compression.
Conversely, the fear of litigation has led some physicians to overreact to otherwise benign fetal heart rate decelerations and opt for surgical delivery. Many times, C-sections are unnecessarily performed not only as a result of overzealous monitoring, but because the devices often keep mothers from assuming natural positions during labor and delivery. Walking and moving around during the perinatal period allows the infant to move into a position that is more conducive to delivery. Mothers who lie down during labor may not be able to adequately deliver their babies because of fetal malpresentation.
Women who have been harmed after undergoing possibly unnecessary procedures resulting from the use of medical interventions such as EFM may be able to seek compensation for their medical expenses and other damages. A personal injury lawyer who handles malpractice cases may be able to help patients in this regard.