Fetal monitoring in labour

When you are in labour, various checks will be offered to you and your unborn baby.

This could be done by listening in at intervals (intermittent auscultation) or continuously monitoring and recording your baby's heartbeat (electronic fetal monitoring).

Intermittent auscultation

This is where the midwife listens to your baby’s heartbeat using a hand held machine (or a Pinnard stethoscope) called a Doppler or sonic aid. It acts as a microphone so that you can hear your baby’s heartbeat, too. The midwife will use the sonic aid or Doppler at intervals during your labour to check the rate and pattern of your baby’s heartbeat. Typically, a midwife will listen to your baby’s heart during and after some of your contractions. This tells us how well your baby is coping. As your labour progresses the midwife will do this more often.

This method is recommended for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies. If the midwife detects a change in your baby’s heart rate, or if she has any concerns during your labour, then electronic fetal monitoring will be advised.

Electronic fetal monitoring

Electronic fetal monitoring uses two belts: one that uses ultrasound to measure your baby's heart rate and one which is a pressure transducer used to measure your contractions. This prints out onto paper or a computer screen a graphical representation of your baby's heart rate in response to your contractions. This type of monitoring is offered to women with certain risks factors such as high blood pressure or during some interventions such as epidural or induction of labour.