Benefits of Fetal Monitoring: How It Helps Your Baby During Delivery

Benefits of Fetal Monitoring: How It Helps Your Baby During Delivery

Labor and delivery are natural processes for both moms and babies, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have complications. In fact, the contractions and other changes that occur during labor and birth can be stressful, especially for the baby. Considering you might be in labor for hours, that’s a lot of extra stress on the baby just before birth. Fetal monitoring helps monitor the baby’s reactions to labor by evaluating the baby’s heartbeat while it’s still in your uterus.

At Marsha Howerton, MD PC Obstetrics & Gynecology, we use state-of-the-art monitoring techniques developed specifically for use during labor and delivery. If your due date is approaching, here’s what you should know about fetal monitoring — and why it’s so very important for the health of your baby.

Fetal heart rate: Responses to delivery

If you’re in the latter stages of your pregnancy, you’ve probably heard your baby’s heartbeat at least once by now. During prenatal exams, Dr. Howerton listens to the baby’s heartbeat as part of your evaluation to help ensure the baby is doing well and to determine if additional tests might need to be performed.

Normally, fetal heart rate is much faster than your own heart rate — the average fetal heart rate is somewhere between 110 and 160 beats per minute, although it can vary a bit either way. During labor, the baby’s heartbeat can change based on what’s “going on” inside the uterus, including in response to contractions.

In addition to monitoring the baby’s heart rate during labor, monitoring can also be used to measure the pressure inside the uterus and to measure the uterine contractions, mapping them to the baby’s heartbeats to determine the effect those contractions are having on the baby’s well-being.

External and internal fetal monitoring

In a prenatal exam, the heartbeat is measured using an external monitor that relies on ultrasound to track and evaluate the heart’s activity. Ultrasound works like an echo. The handheld “applicator,” called a transducer, emits ultrasound energy that penetrates your skin painlessly. As the energy bounces back or is reflected, the transducer captures those waves of energy and transmits the data to the ultrasound computer, which uses the data to produce images and, in this case, reveal the sounds made by the baby’s beating heart. This type of external monitoring is also used during pregnancy. Often, instead of using a handheld transducer, ultrasound energy is emitted via a device that’s secure to your belly using a belt, providing a continual stream of data for ongoing monitor throughout labor.

Internal monitoring works a little differently. In this type of monitoring, a very thin, tiny wire is attached to the baby’s scalp. The wire serves as an electrode — sort of like the electrodes that are used during an EKG, but without the large, sticky patch. The wire is attached to the baby’s scalp through your cervix, and it extends outside your cervix to connect to a fetal monitoring device. This device is extremely precise and gives very accurate readings. Since the baby is protected in the early stages of labor by the amniotic sac, internal monitoring can only be performed once the sac is broken, either naturally as part of the labor process or by your doctor. Internal monitoring provides Dr. Howerton with detailed information about how your baby is responding to labor; it’s almost always used in high-risk pregnancies, but it’s also frequently recommended in non-high-risk pregnancies as well.

Having an internal monitor attached to your baby’s scalp may sound a little scary, but the electrode itself is very tiny and very fine, and Dr. Howerton is skilled in placing the electrode so it provides precise monitoring without distressing the baby during labor. If you’re concerned about internal monitoring or if you’d like to learn more about the monitoring process, you can talk to Dr. Howerton prior to being admitted for your delivery. Asking questions ahead of time is the best way to feel confident about the entire labor and delivery process, and that means it'll be less stressful for you as well. If you have questions about fetal monitoring or any other aspect of labor and delivery, book an appointment online today so you can get the answers you need before your due date.

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