Why do Doctors Need to Monitor the Fetus to Ensure That There is Adequate Oxygen Supply?

babyThe deprivation of oxygen on a developing fetus may cause serious consequences for a child. The lack of oxygen in the brain and bloodstream can create the brain injury known as hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and have consequences on the child’s motor, behavioral, speech, and intellectual development. Doctors who possess this knowledge at the right time can communicate with the other professionals and the mother to take the correct procedures during childbirth.

What are the Consequences of Inadequate Oxygen Supply?

The deprivation of oxygen in the child can lead to complications during the delivery and both short- and long-term effects that manifest over time. HIE injuries have two stages. The first stage is when the inadequate oxygen supply occurs, and the second stage (the reperfusion injury) happens as the lack of oxygen releases toxins from the damaged cells. Such effects range from small, treatable conditions to lifetime disabilities and complications. The following are short-term effects of oxygen deprivation that allow for early diagnosis and treatment:

  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Pale skin color
  • Weak/floppy muscle tone
  • Difficulty in eating or nursing
  • Seizures within the first 24 hours of life
  • Irregular breathing
  • Slow reflexes
  • Apnea

Long-term effects of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can affect the child for the rest of his or her life. The patient will need numerous treatments and therapies to cope with the symptoms. The following are long-term impacts of oxygen deprivation on infants:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Irregular behavior and emotions
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Language and speech delays
  • Intracranial hemorrhages
  • Fetal stroke
How is the Fetus Monitored for Oxygen Deprivation?

An obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) or other health professional uses specialized equipment to detect the heart rate of the fetus. The doctor uses either auscultation or electronic fetal monitoring to constantly detect and record the heart rate, as well as the contractions of the uterus during labor. The methods used in the procedure depend on the particular hospital’s policy, the mother’s health, and the status of labor.

If the heart rate becomes irregular, the doctor can deduce the lack of oxygen and take steps with the mother and other specialists to handle the situation.

What is Auscultation?

Auscultation is a screening method that uses either the stethoscope or a Doppler transducer to periodically listen to the function of an organ. The health care provider presses stethoscope against the mother’s abdomen, which allows the user to listen to the fetal heart rate. The transducer uses sound waves that reflect off the fetus and other organs to create images.

During auscultation, the doctor checks the fetal heart rate at specific times during labor. If problems arise during the process or the mother has risk conditions, the doctor will measure the heart rate more often.

What is Electronic Fetal Monitoring?

Electronic fetal monitoring is a screening method that uses equipment to measure, compare, and record the fetal heart rate and the contractions of the mother’s uterus. Health care practitioners call the electronic recording of the heartbeat fetal heart rate tracing. The OB/GYN checks the tracing at specific times, but reviews may increase if complications occur during labor. Doctors can perform this method internally or externally.

What is Internal Fetal Monitoring?

Doctors perform the internal method of electronic fetal monitoring once the amniotic sac breaks. Internal monitoring uses an electrode (a wire placed near the fetus) to measure the heart rate. They can detect contractions with a tube, called the intrauterine pressure catheter, which they insert into the uterus.

What is External Fetal Monitoring?

The external method of electronic fetal monitoring uses two belts. One belt measures the heart rate with Doppler, while the other belt measures the length and frequency of contractions. Both belts wrap around the mother’s abdomen.