Monitoring Your Baby During Labor

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Why Do Fetal Monitoring?

Fetal monitoring measures your baby’s heart rate, and is a good indication of how she’s tolerating contractions during labor. A decelerating heartbeat can tell your doctor or midwife that the baby is under distress and needs to be delivered right away.

This can be done externally by holding a device against your belly, or internally by placing an electrode on the baby’s scalp (after your water has broken). Another thin, catheter-shaped internal electrode placed inside your uterus can measure the strength of your contractions.

External fetal monitoring can be done either continuously or intermittently. Continuous monitoring involves placing two disks against your belly, held in place with a stretchy band. One measures your contractions and the other your baby’s heart rate. You would have continuous monitoring if:

  • you have complications (either during pregnancy or labor
  • you get an epidural
  • you receive Pitocin to induce or boost labor

When you arrive at the hospital, you’ll receive about 20 to 30 minutes of continuous external fetal monitoring during the first part of active labor. If it seems that labor is progressing as it should and the baby is tolerating it appropriately, then you may be given intermittent checks with a simple handheld Doppler device (like your OB or midwife used during your prenatal appointments). Before you go into labor, talk to your doctor or midwife about what type of monitoring you should expect.