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Fetal Monitoring

What is fetal monitoring?

Fetal (FEE-tal) monitoring is a way for your doctor to check the health of your unborn baby. It is used during labor and delivery. Sometimes it may be done at an earlier point in the pregnancy. Monitoring cannot stop a problem from taking place. But it may warn your doctor of possible problems.

There are different types of fetal monitoring. Each method has its own benefits.

Why is fetal monitoring during labor important?

Fetal monitoring can help make the birth of your baby as safe as possible. If your doctor decides to use fetal monitoring, do not worry. It does not mean there is a problem, and it will not affect your labor. It is simply one way to let your doctor know how your baby is doing during your labor.

When is monitoring done?

All mothers are monitored for at least a short time when they are first admitted to the hospital. Most mothers will be monitored throughout active labor.

You may be continuously monitored during your labor if:

  • Your labor is induced; for example, using Pitocin
  • You have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease
  • You receive epidural (eh-pih-DOOR-ul) anesthesia
  • You have current, or have had earlier, pregnancy problems
  • Your doctor or midwife orders it (you can discuss this during prenatal visits)

What are the different kinds of monitoring?

Fetal Heart Rate

 
Most mothers-to-be and their support people find it comforting to be able to see or hear the baby’s heart beat.

The heart beat can be monitored in 2 ways:

  • Outside the body: An elastic belt and a receiver, called an ultrasound transducer, is placed on your belly. The receiver finds the baby’s heart beat. The belt may need to be adjusted as you or the baby move.
  • Inside the body: A tiny device, called a spiral, is placed on the baby’s head or buttocks. Wires are attached to your upper leg. This monitor moves with you and your baby. It normally does not need to be adjusted. It is used only after your water has broken and your cervix is dilated.

Uterine Activity

 
Your contractions can be monitored during labor. Knowing when your contractions are taking place can help you to better use your breathing exercises.
 
Contractions can be monitored in 2 ways:

  • Outside the body: A small pressure-sensitive device, called a toco, is placed on your belly. It is held in place with an elastic belt. The device keeps a record of how long your contractions are and how often they take place. It does not measure the strength of the contractions.
  • Inside the body: A small, soft tube is placed inside the uterus beside the baby. The tube measures how long your contractions are and how often they take place. It also shows how strong the contractions are.

Internal monitoring of either your baby or your contractions can only be done after your water has broken.

Telemetry

Some hospitals may have a monitoring unit that can move with you. This unit will keep track of your baby’s heart rate and your contractions. It allows you to walk around freely. This method is good for the early stages of labor.

For more information

For more information about fetal monitoring, talk to your doctor.

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