During late pregnancy and during labor, your doctor may want to monitor the fetal heart rate and other functions. Fetal heart rate monitoring is a method of checking the rate and rhythm of the fetal heartbeat. The average fetal heart rate is between 110 and 160 beats per minute. The fetal heart rate may change as the fetus responds to conditions in the uterus. An abnormal fetal heart rate or pattern may mean that the fetus is not getting enough oxygen or there are other problems. An abnormal pattern also may mean that an emergency or cesarean delivery is needed.
Using a fetoscope (a type of stethoscope) to listen to the fetal heartbeat is the most basic type of fetal heart rate monitoring. Another type of monitoring is with a hand held Doppler device. This is often used during prenatal visits to count the fetal heart rate. During labor, continuous electronic fetal monitoring is often used, especially if an abnormal rhythm is heard with the fetoscope. Although the specific details of each procedure vary slightly, generally, electronic fetal monitoring follows this process:
|Fetal monitoring is widely used. There are no known risks to using the fetoscope, Doppler, or external monitoring. There may be a slight risk of infection with internal monitoring. The scalp electrode may also cause a mark or small cut on the baby's head, but this usually heals quickly. An abnormal fetal heart rate pattern does not always mean the fetus is in danger. Studies have found that the use of electronic fetal monitoring is associated with a greater chance for vacuum and forceps with vaginal deliveries, and for cesarean delivery with abnormal fetal heart rate tracings.||Fetal monitoring may help with possible recognition of problems in the fetus. Other testing or delivery may be necessary.|
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