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Fetal Monitor

Labor is an exciting, rewarding experience for expectant parents. It's the grand finale for nine months of hard work. Without a doubt, the mother will experience pain and stress during labor. In most cases, the baby tolerates labor quite well. However with every delivery there's an element of risk that cannot be ignored. This chance of risk is why all babies should be monitored while the mother is in labor.

An electronic fetal monitor measures the response of the baby's heartbeat to the contractions of the uterus. There are several different types of monitors. They all monitor the same signals and will give a reading of this relationship (effect of labor contractions on baby's heartbeat). The labor and delivery nurse or a technician may be able to pick up on signs of fetal stress and distress through the variations found on the readings. Some monitors are equipped to sound an alarm if such a variation occurs. There are two types of fetal monitoring, external or internal monitoring. External monitoring is the most common. Internal monitoring is used when more accurate readings are required. If and when suspicion of fetal distress shows up in external monitoring, internal monitoring would be used.

There are four main types of monitoring equipment:

  • The doppler is a handheld ultrasound device that will transmit the baby's heart rate into speakers or earplugs. Often doctors or midwives will use this instrument in their office. The beauty of using a Doppler during labor is that it can be used intermittently with very little hassle for hospital staff or the laboring mother. The mother also can maintain mobility with the Doppler if it helps to manage pain or is helping labor to progress since it's portable.

  • The external electronic fetal monitor is a two-belt ultrasound device that is strapped around the mother's belly. This method provides a beat to beat view of the baby's heart tones in relationship to the mother's contractions. This device can be used continually or intermittently. This method does use ultrasound, and there can be a margin of mechanical error. These errors may occur because the device is getting jarred during a mother's movements or the sensor looses contact with the body. There is a loss of mobility (when in use), which may slow labor.

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