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Fetal Heart Monitoring

Fetal heart monitoring measures a baby's (fetus's) heart rate during pregnancy or labor and delivery. These measurements can help health professionals check a fetus's general condition and identify early signs of distress.

During labor and delivery, the fetal heart rate is closely watched along with the mother's uterine contractions (using a tocometer). This helps the doctor or nurse see how the baby is responding and whether any treatments, such as the use of medicines, are needed to help speed up delivery.

Two types of monitoring—external or internal—can be done.

  • For external monitoring, instruments that detect fetal heartbeats are placed around the pregnant woman's abdomen.
  • For internal monitoring, electrodes that measure fetal heartbeats are connected to the fetus's scalp. Internal monitoring is not done if there is placenta previa, a condition where the placenta is low and just above the cervix, because of the risk of bleeding.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerKirtly Jones, MD - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last RevisedNovember 2, 2011

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 02, 2011
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