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Learning About Fetal Heart Monitoring

External fetal heart rate monitoring

What is fetal heart monitoring?

Fetal heart monitoring keeps track of the heart rate of your unborn baby (fetus). It also shows how long and how strong your contractions are. It is done during pregnancy, labour, and delivery.

This technique helps your doctor see if your unborn baby is healthy or is having any problems. It may help your doctor find the best way to deliver your baby.

The monitoring can be external or internal. External monitoring can be done anytime after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Internal monitoring is done only during labour.

How is it done?

In most cases, you will lie on a table on your back or left side.

  • In external monitoring, two belts are placed around your belly. One belt holds a sensor that keeps track of your baby's heart rate. The other belt also holds a sensor. It measures the timing of your contractions. Gel may be put on your skin so there is good contact between your skin and the sensors.
  • In internal monitoring, your doctor guides a thin wire through your vagina and cervix. Your doctor attaches it to your baby's scalp. A small tube is also guided through your vagina. This connects a device that measures your baby's heart rate and the timing and strength of your contractions.

The sensors or the wire and tube connect to a recording device. This device can show or print out a record of your baby's heart rate and how long and strong your contractions are.

The doctor will watch your baby's heart rate and how it responds to your contractions.

What can you expect?

The doctor will keep track of your baby's heart rate during labour and delivery. This helps your doctor get a sense of how the baby is doing. It helps the doctor know if there is a problem that needs to be fixed. And it helps the doctor know when it is time to deliver the baby.

If there is an abnormal result, your doctor will try to find out why. You may have more tests. Your baby may be under stress. Your doctor may have to deliver your baby as soon as possible.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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