Listening to your unborn baby's heartbeat
In late pregnancy and during labor, your doctor or midwife may want to monitor your unborn baby's 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. During labor, the fetal heart rate may be checked regularly with a hand held Doppler device like the one used at your prenatal visits. Continuous electronic fetal monitoring is sometimes used.
Here's how monitoring generally works:
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.
Why are some labors induced?
Most women give birth between 37 and 41 weeks of pregnancy. While it's usually best to let nature take its course, in some cases, labor has to be "induced." This is a process of artificially stimulating labor to begin.
Some reasons for induction include:
In an induction, medications or artificial methods are used to start and stimulate the natural process of labor. These are used to make the uterus contract and the cervix dilate and efface.
Some common techniques of induction include the following:
Your doctor or midwife can advise you on whether your labor needs to be induced.
A nonstress test (NST) measures the fetal heart rate in response to the fetus' movements. Generally, the heart rate of a healthy fetus increases when the fetus moves. The NST is usually performed in the last trimester of pregnancy in a special prenatal testing area of the hospital, or in your doctor's office. The NST uses continuous electronic fetal monitoring to record the fetal heart rate. The mother is instructed to push a button on the monitor each time she feels fetal movement. This places a mark on the paper printout. The NST usually lasts for 20 to 40 minutes. Test results of the NST may be reactive (normal), when there are two or more fetal heart rate increases in the testing period, or nonreactive, when there is no change in the fetal heart rate when the fetus moves. This can occur when the fetus is asleep, or when a fetus is too young or it may mean that there is a problem that requires further testing.
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