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Fetal monitoring keeps tabs on your baby's heart rate to make sure the pattern is normal.
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Linda Murray: Fetal monitoring is one of the most common interventions. Almost all women are monitored at some point in labor. The main thing the monitor checks is your baby's heart rate to make sure the pattern is normal. If it gets alarmingly fast or slow, your caregiver will step in to help. At most hospitals, your baby's heartbeat will be tracked continuously throughout labor.
Two electronic discs called transducers will be strapped to your belly with wide stretchy bands, wires run from the transducers to a monitor near your bed. If your caregiver needs a more accurate reading, she might use an internal monitor, which is inserted through your cervix and attached to your baby's scalp. The alternative to continuous monitoring is intermittent monitoring, or checking your baby's heartbeat at specific times like every 15 minutes in active labor, or every 5 minutes during the pushing stage. Intermittent monitoring can be done with the transducers on your belly or a handheld monitoring device, which is held up against your belly while your caregiver listens through it. Intermittent monitoring is done at birth centers and some hospitals.
Electronic monitoring doesn't hurt, but the wires can limit your ability to move around and try different positions and movements to ease your pain. Some hospitals offer wireless monitoring so you're not tethered to a machine, and some even have waterproof monitors that you can wear in the shower or tub. Another drawback is that the transducers on your belly can be bothersome while you're dealing with contractions.
Research shows that continuous fetal monitoring can help reduce the already low chance of newborn seizures, but it doesn't significantly reduce the risk of mortality or long-term health problems. Many hospitals still prefer to play it safe and require continuous monitoring, especially if the mom to be has an epidural or any high-risk conditions or if she gets her labor induced. One downside to continuous monitoring is that it can create false alarms that can lead to other interventions like c-sections that may not have been truly necessary.
Several studies have shown that intermittent monitoring is a safe and effective option in most labors. You can ask your caregiver if it works for you. To be done safely, it requires continuous nursing attention, so if there aren't enough nurses available, it may not be an option.