Learn About Periodic Fetal Heart Monitoring Options

Electronic fetal heart monitoring helps your pregnancy care provider and nurses understand how baby is doing during labor. Understanding the types of fetal heart monitoring you may experience will help you ask questions during visits with your pregnancy care provider, in childbirth classes, and tours of the facility where you will birth your baby.

Obstetricians and midwives may have their own fetal heart monitoring preferences, so ask ahead of time what options will be made available to you and how continuous or periodic (“intermittent”) electronic fetal heart monitoring may support or affect your labor and baby’s birth.

Monitoring Baby’s Heart Rate

Some pregnancy care providers monitor baby’s heart rate through a “toco transducer.” This gives a visual picture of baby’s heart rate and movement during a short timeframe (15-30 minutes).

These fetal heart monitors can also be applied when needed so that your movement during labor can still include birthing balls, rocking chairs, walking, and squatting.

Labor is a process of movement, this periodic assessment for baby can be a great option to allow labor to naturally progress, reducing the risks of baby not being in the right position for birth or your need for cesarean birth.

Handheld Doppler Monitoring

The second option is called intermittent auscultation using a handheld doppler device, similar to how a device was used to listen to baby’s heart rate during prenatal care.  Although both external and internal fetal heart monitoring is used more often in hospitals and university-based healthcare systems, ask your pregnancy care provider if periodic, intermittent auscultation could be an option in your labor. Also, be sure to discuss whether you or your baby have any risk factors that would create the need for continuous monitoring of baby’s heart rate, how your labor is progressing, and how well you and baby are tolerating labor, especially during and after contractions.

Mobile Fetal Heart Monitoring

Some birthing facilities, including hospitals, also have fetal heart monitoring capabilities that allow pregnancy care providers to monitor your baby while you’re up walking and moving around in specific areas of the facility. Ask your pregnancy care provider, or ask during childbirth education, if this will be an option where you plan to birth.

Labor is ultimately a process of movement, so monitoring that will allow for more freedom to move around, can help your labor progress more quickly, and may even decrease the need for cesarean birth.

If our Periodic Fetal Heart Monitoring Options article was useful, then you may also like Understanding Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring


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LaShea Haynes MEd, MSN, APRN, AGCNS-BC, RNC, C-EFM, is Editor of Healthy Mom&Baby magazine, and a leader in obstetric nursing for more than 26 years. She is also a staff nurse, certified doula and founder & owner of her own nurse mentoring, education and consulting company.

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