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Treatment: Fetal Monitoring

Electronic fetal monitoring, also known as cardiotocography, is used to detect fetal distress, usually as a result of oxygen deficiency. During labour, changes in the fetal heart rate in response to uterine contractions are recorded. An abnormal heart rate is a sign of fetal distress. If the fetus is distressed, a more accurate reading may be taken using a probe attached to the fetus’s head. A blood sample may be taken from the fetus’s scalp to check the level of oxygen. Monitoring normally takes place during labour but may also be used to detect problems during pregnancy.

External fetal monitoring

Two devices are strapped to your abdomen: an ultrasound transducer to detect the fetus’s heartbeat and a movement sensor to measure your contractions.

Internal fetal monitoring

A clip is attached directly to the skin of the fetus’s head, and the heart rate is monitored continually. This device produces a more accurate reading than an ultrasound transducer, but it can only be attached when the cervix has started to dilate.

Results

Cardiotocograph during labour

Readings from the two devices around the mother’s abdomen are converted into tracings on a cardiotocograph. The heart rate of a healthy fetus usually speeds up at the start of a contraction, as the peaks show, then rapidly returns to a normal level.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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