Fetal Heart Monitor: What Is It?

Fetal heart monitoring is a process by a baby’s or fetus’ heart rhythm and rate are measured. Through fetal heart monitoring, the patient’s healthcare partner or doctor can determine how well the baby or the fetus is doing.

Professional runs a ultrasound

What is fetal heart monitor?

Fetal heart monitoring is a process wherein a baby’s or fetus’ heart rhythm and rate are measured. Through fetal heart monitoring, the patient’s healthcare partner or doctor can determine how well the baby or the fetus is doing.

A doctor or a healthcare professional will usually take the fetal heart rate monitor of an unborn child or a fetus during the later part of the patient’s pregnancy until labor. On average, the fetal heart rate should be around 110 to 160 bpm or beats per minute and is expected to have a normal variance of around 5 to 25 beats.

There may be changes in the fetal heart rate of the baby or the fetus depending on the baby’s reactions to factors that may affect the uterus. A fetal heart rate that is abnormal may be an indication of a problem or an issue or that the baby or the fetus is not getting enough oxygen.

To check on the fetal heart rate of babies or fetuses, two kinds of fetal heart rate monitoring may be conducted- external and internal.

What is External Fetal Heart Monitoring?

External Fetal Heart Monitoring is done using a device or contraption that can tune in to listen and document (preferably via recording) the heartbeat of the baby or the fetus through the mother’s abdomen or belly. An example of such a device or contraption is called a Doppler Ultrasound Device. Usually used when prenatal check-ups are done, this contraption is used to count the heart rate of the baby. In addition, the Doppler ultrasound may also be used for counting the baby’s or the fetus’ heart rate even during labor.

Continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate from prenatal checkups to the actual date of labor may also be conducted by the patient’s doctor or healthcare provider using a device called a transducer. This device may be attached to the pregnant mother’s belly which will then send out readings of the baby’s heart rate to a paired computer.All the recorded data will then be displayed and printed out for documentation and further observation.

What is Internal Fetal Heart Monitoring?

Internal Fetal Heart Monitoring, on the other hand, relies on a different approach to measure the heart rate of babies or fetuses. It uses electrodes or thin wires attached to the scalp of the baby which is accessed through the pregnant mother’s cervix. These electrodes are then connected to a monitor and have been said to give better and more accurate readings as it is not easily affected by external factors such as movement. Internal Fetal Heart Monitoring, however, will require that the amniotic fluid and the cervix be accessible and opened. Internal fetal heart monitoring will usually be utilized by the patient’s healthcare partner or doctor if external heart monitoring is not doing a good job of getting a reliable reading if the doctor requires a more intensive form or monitoring even during labor.

During labor, the patient’s doctor will also observe the contractions of the uterus and the heart rate of the baby. The healthcare professional will also take note of the contractions the patients experience and record how often and how strongly these occur. Due to fetal heart rates and contractions occurring at the same time, they are usually both observed, documented and compared. In addition to heart rate and contractions, the patient’s doctor may also check for uterus pressure by inserting a catheter or a thin tube that can detect the pressure within the uterus and send it back for monitoring.

Why Is It Done?

Fetal heart monitoring is usually recommended for people with pregnancy that is considered as high-risk or risky. Pregnancies are usually classified as risky or dangerous if the mother has high blood pressure or has type 2 diabetes. Pregnancies are also tagged as high risk or dangerous if the baby or fetus is not developing as it should. Monitoring the fetal heart rate can also be a good way to check on the effects of medication that is keeping early labor in check. These medications are also referred to as preterm labor medicines.

Other tests that may require fetal heart monitoring include:

  • Nonstress test – A test that measures the effects of the baby’s movements to its fetal heart rate
  • Contraction Stress Test – A test that measures uterine contractions together with the fetal heart rate These contractions will usually be contractions that are medically induced.
  • Biophysical Profile or BPP – A test that mixes both an ultrasound test and a nonstress test.

Physicians will also look for other factors that may affect the fetal heart of fetuses or babies during labor. These factors usually include:

  • Contractions of the uterus
  • Anesthesia or other medicines to fight off pain administered while in labor
  • Tests that are conducted during labor
  • Pushing that is done during the later stages of labor

Risks of Fetal Heart Monitoring

Fortunately, there are no known major risk factors for fetal heart monitoring as it uses no radiation and causes no form of discomfort. Patients may find some of the belts used to put transducers in place may feel too tight which may simply be adjusted by the patient’s doctor.

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