Foetal Heart Monitoring During Labour

Because of how physically intensive labour is, steps are taken to monitor your health and that of your unborn child during childbirth. One of these is foetal heart monitoring, a useful practice that can quickly tell your doctor or midwife if your baby is under any serious physical stress.

What is foetal heart monitoring?

The practice of foetal heart monitoring ensures the health and safety of your baby throughout childbirth. This technique refers to any method which allows your midwife or doctor to monitor your baby’s heart rate and detect any abnormal increases or decreases in heart rate.

If any distress is noted, i.e. your baby’s heart rate increases suddenly and dangerously, your doctor will know to speed up your labour and deliver your baby as quickly as possible.

How is the foetal heart rate monitored?

There are a number of different methods of monitoring foetal heart rate that are currently in use by the NHS:

A specially designed clip can be placed on top of your child’s head, this clip can provide more information about the heart rate of your baby.

It is possible to monitor both your baby’s heart rate and the contractions you experience throughout labour through a device that measures the electrical activity involved in both activities. Muscular movement like contractions and heart beat occurs in response to electrical cues from nerves, and these signals can be picked up using cardiotocography (CTG), a machine strapped to your abdomen by means of a belt. CTG is a safe and accurate way of monitoring your baby’s heartbeat throughout labour.

Your baby’s heart rate can also be monitored by means of a portable ultrasound detector. Once you are in established labour (which is when your cervix has widened by at least 4cm) you can expect your midwife to check on your baby’s heart rate at least once every 15 minutes. This method is more convenient than traditional ultrasound monitoring as you can remain mobile.

If any abnormalities are noticed with your baby’s heart rate, you can expect your doctor or midwife to take the appropriate medical action. In most cases they will try to speed up labour and get the baby delivered as possible.

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