Are There Problems Associated With Fetal Monitoring?

graphicMost fetal monitoring happens in the delivery room. Doctors use the technology to measure the rate of your baby's heartbeat and the rhythm, keeping an eye on your baby during the labor process. Fetal monitoring is standard practice in the delivery room, but there are some associated risks and problems you should be aware of before using it in your care plan.

What is the Difference Between External and Internal Fetal Monitoring?

There are two types of fetal monitoring. External monitoring involves placing a monitoring belt on the outside of the mother’s stomach. The belt contains a device called a tocodynamometer that uses high-frequency sound waves to measure the baby’s heart rate. This type of monitoring has very few risks but is not as accurate as other methods.

Internal fetal monitoring uses a transducer inserted through the cervical opening and placed on the baby's head to monitor the heart rate. This type of monitoring can only happen after the cervix dilates and the water breaks. It is more accurate than external monitoring, but it does come with its own risks. The transducer is more accurate than the belt, giving doctors a better chance to monitor vital signs. But neither one of the options is 100% accurate all the time. There is still room for error.

What are the Risks of Fetal Monitoring?

There are very few risks to external fetal monitoring. The belt can slip, causing inaccurate measurements, but the physical risk to mom and baby is minimal. Internal monitoring requires inserting the monitoring equipment and a gloved finger past the cervix. The introduction of outside elements always carries a risk of infection from external bacteria, or from bacteria the mom might be carrying. Internal fetal monitoring is not recommended for patients with infections that may cause harm to the baby.

How Accurate is a Fetal Monitor?

Fetal monitoring is very helpful when it works. But there is also plenty of room for human error. If the monitor slips, the alarms may sound as if the baby is going into distress. This causes the mom and all the doctors to panic, sometimes acting inappropriately. In other cases, doctors may read the information incorrectly, leading to improper care. Doctors tend to take the cautious route, and sometimes a bad strip on the monitor can lead to an unnecessary c-section or the hurried use of vacuum or forceps.

It is important that your doctor has experience reading fetal heart rate strips. Fetal heartbeats can be irregular, causing unnecessary panic. Ask your doctor about his or her experience before entering the delivery room. Knowing your doctor’s experience can help you feel more comfortable with everything going on around you.

Are There any Alternatives to Fetal Monitoring?

Unfortunately, there are few alternatives to fetal monitoring. You can request that your doctor use intermittent monitoring, or that you stay with the safer external monitors. Some doctors will even use a stethoscope-type instrument to avoid technology malfunction.

While there are a few risks associated with fetal monitoring, in most cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. Recent studies have shown that babies who received fetal monitoring were less likely to suffer from seizures during the labor process. If you have a normal pregnancy with no complications, fetal monitoring will probably be a part of your routine care. It is important to do what works best for you and your situation. If you have concerns about fetal monitoring, it is best to discuss them with your doctor. Together you can determine the best course of action for your care.