Electronic fetal monitoring is the single most common obstetric procedure in California and across the United States, with statistics showing it is used on more than eight out of 10 pregnant women. However, years of studies show that it is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
EFM, which includes internal and external monitoring of a baby’s heart rate during labor, was introduced in the 1960s to prevent fetal asphyxia. In the decades since, researchers have found that the procedure does little to save the lives of babies or mothers. In fact, it has been shown to increase childbirth risks because it is associated with a higher rate of aggressive labor interventions, such as C-sections and vacuum extractions. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stopped recommending continuous EFM 25 years ago and updated its guidelines in 2013 to note that the practice has not had any effect on perinatal mortality. In 2015, the American Academy of Nursing also advised against the automatic use of EFM.
There are a few reasons why it is still so widely used, however. One is that birth in the U.S. has become a highly medicalized process. Drugs, fetal monitoring, episiotomies, C-sections and other interventions have become routine during labor, and many medical professionals now view it as necessary. However, research suggests that low tech alternatives to EFM, such as stethoscopes or fetoscopes, carry less risk during childbirth.
California mothers who believe they or their baby were injured during delivery may benefit by consulting with an attorney. In some cases, it could be advisable to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible parties seeking compensation for the damages that have been incurred.