The fetal monitor is attached to the mother during labor and delivery to monitor the health and well being of the baby. It records both the baby’s heart rate and the mothers heart rate, and allows a provider to see when contractions are occurring. In cases of obstetrical negligence, the defendant obstetrician often tries to argue that the very tool they recommended and use on a regular basis is not a reliable indicator of the baby’s well being. This argument has been rejected by courts across the country.

During labor, your healthcare practitioner and nurse will be checking your baby’s heart rate to keep tabs on how she’s doing and see how he’s tolerating your contractions. This is called fetal monitoring. This can be done with an electronic fetal monitor or a handheld Doppler device like the one your caregiver used to listen to your baby during your prenatal visits. Electronic fetal monitoring is a procedure in which instruments are used to continuously record the heartbeat of the fetus and the contractions of the mother’s uterus during labor. Your baby’s heart rate can be checked continuously with an electronic fetal monitor or periodically (this is called intermittent auscultation). Most women who give birth in U.S. hospitals are hooked up to an electronic fetal monitor more or less continuously throughout labor.

Continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring can help detect changes in the normal heart rate pattern during labor. If certain changes are detected, the obstetrician can treat the underlying problem. Fetal heart rate monitoring also can help prevent treatments that are not needed. A normal fetal heart rate can reassure both you and your health care provider that it is safe to continue labor if no other problems are present.

If there is an abnormal fetal heart rate pattern, your obstetrician will first try to find the cause. Steps can be taken to help the baby get more oxygen, such as having you change position. If these procedures do not work, or if further test results suggest your baby has a problem, your health care provider may decide to deliver the baby right away by cesarean birth.

Over time, medical professionals have used many different tools to assess fetal well-being Of all these methods, continuous fetal heart rate monitoring has withstood the test of time. Fetal heart rate monitoring is a very important tool because the decisions and interventions that obstetricians make are based on their interpretation of the fetal heart rate tracings. Such decisions are critical to the overall outcome of the fetus.

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