Krisha McCoy, MS
Fetal heart rate monitoring is listening to your baby's heartbeat.
Monitoring is done before labor to evaluate the well-being of the fetus during pregnancy. It can also be used during labor and delivery. This gives your doctor information about how well your baby is handling the stress of labor.
There are no major complications associated with external monitoring. Internal monitoring may increase the risk of infection. There may also be some bruising on the baby's scalp. Internal monitoring is not recommended in mothers with a current herpes infection.
As you prepare for the birth of your baby:
There are 2 types of fetal monitoring:
There are 2 ways your doctor can monitor your baby externally:
Internal fetal monitoring is only used during labor. It can only be done after your water has broken and your cervix has started to dilate. Your doctor inserts a small electrode through your vagina and attaches it to the baby's scalp. The electrical signals from your baby's heartbeat are picked up by the electrode and displayed on a screen. This type of monitoring is more accurate than external monitoring. The electrode will not injure your baby. However, the use of internal fetal monitoring should be avoided in certain maternal and fetal conditions.
The electrodes or belts will be removed.
Fetal monitoring may be done at set times throughout your labor and delivery or throughout active labor.
The average fetal heart rate is 110-160 beats per minute. An abnormal heart rate or abnormal pattern may indicate that the fetus is not getting enough oxygen or having other problems. The doctor may change the course of your labor and delivery based on what the fetal heart rate is showing.
The procedure is completed with labor. There are no lasting effects that your doctor will need to monitor.
Office on Women's Health
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Women's Health Matters
Fetal heart monitoring. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/gynecology/external_and_internal_heart_rate_monitoring_of_the_fetus_92,P07776. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Fetal heart rate monitoring during labor. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at:
http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq015.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20121220T0954532535. Updated August 2011. Accessed April 7, 2017.
Practice bulletin no. 145: antepartum fetal surveillance.
Obstet Gynecol. 2014;124(1):182-192. Reaffirmed 2016.
Last reviewed April 2017 by Andrea Chisholm, MD
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