Overview & Description
Fetal monitoring is the recording of the baby’s heart rate and the mother’s contractions during labor. Devices are connected to the mother’s abdomen and to the baby.
This is done in two ways:
Who is a candidate for the test?
The contractions of the uterus during labor decrease the amount of blood flowing to the placenta, the organ that normally attaches to the uterus, connecting the developing fetus to the mother and supplies nutrition and oxygen to the fetus. Contractions also decrease the blood flow to the fetal umbilical cord, which inserts into the developing baby’s belly button and connects the fetus to the placenta. The decreased blood flow cuts down on the amount of oxygen getting to the baby. Labor and delivery can be risky to the fetus under normal conditions, but presents even more risk if the placenta is not functioning fully. In most hospital settings, the majority of women in labor undergo fetal monitoring to ensure a good outcome.
Conditions that require fetal monitoring include:
Fetal monitoring is also used to evaluate the strength of uterine contractions in cases such as:
How is the test performed?
Only external fetal monitoring is conducted if the fluid-filled membrane surrounding the fetus, known as the amniotic sac, has not broken. This is more common in early term or pre-term labor. The woman should lie on her left side if possible. This allows the maximum amount of blood to reach the infant. Two belts are placed around the abdomen. One belt will monitor the baby’s heartbeat. The other measures the strength and frequency of uterine contractions.
Internal monitors can be placed once the amniotic sac has broken. Internal monitors provide a more accurate picture of the progress of labor. Internal monitoring involves two devices. The first is a small wire placed directly on the baby’s scalp, called the fetal scalp electrode. It measures the baby’s heart rate. The second is an intrauterine pressure catheter. This is a narrow plastic tube inserted through the vagina, past the cervix and into the uterus. It is attached to a pressure gauge that measures the timing and strength of the uterus’ contractions. Both of these devices are attached to a computerized fetal monitor. This instrument converts the heart rate and uterine contractions into a readable graph chart.
Preparation & Expectations
What is involved in preparation for the test?
A woman should discuss the use of fetal monitoring with her healthcare provider during her prenatal visits in order to understand the risks and benefits of the testing.
Results and Values
What do the test results mean?
Fetal heart rate during labor varies. The normal range is from 120 to 160 beats per minute. Heartbeat speeds up and slows down slightly during and after a contraction. Abnormal heartbeat patterns may indicate:
Abnormal uterine contraction patterns may indicate:
Any of these results may require an immediate cesarean section or other form of intervention to prevent serious complication for mother or baby.
Article type: xmedgeneral