Fetal Heart Monitoring: All You Should Know About

Fetal heart monitoring is an important procedure that helps to determine that fetal progress during a pregnancy is normal and healthy. This can be done during routine prenatal exams or during labor. During labor this procedure also helps to keep a track of the duration and strength of contractions of the uterus.

The process of monitoring the fetus’s heart rate is very important particularly during labor or before labor starts. This is to gauge how well the baby is tolerating or will tolerate the birth process. This procedure is meant to determine whether there is any fetal distress and if any emergency intervention is required.

If fetal heart monitoring results are abnormal this could indicate that the baby is not getting enough oxygen and blood supply, that the umbilical cord is getting compressed or if the baby is not properly positioned for birth. Birth defects such as heart block or severe anemia could also be detected with the help of this procedure.

Types of fetal heart monitoring


A fetal heart monitor procedure can be done externally or internally.

External Monitoring

Conducting jelly is usually applied to the abdomen and electrodes which connect to a monitor will be placed on the belly. The rate at which the baby’s heart is beating and the length of the contractions of the uterus will then be measured. A print out will be produced based on these findings.

Contraction stress test and non stress tests are among the ways of externally monitoring fetal heart rate.

Internal Monitoring

This type of monitoring is used if external monitoring is not producing clear or adequate results, internal monitoring may be required.

Internal fetal heart monitoring is done by inserting the probe or electrode directly into the cervix through the vagina. The probe is placed on the scalp of the baby to measure the activity.

Dangers of home fetal heart monitoring

A word here about the possible dangers of using one of the many available home fetal heart monitors. Though manufacturers claim to offer pregnant women peace of mind, these devices could actually give a false sense of security and may even delay start of urgent medical treatment.

It is easy for the lay person to misinterpret what they hear on the fetal heart monitor and a pregnant woman could mistake her own heartbeat for her baby’s. Also there is no way for untrained individuals to identify when a baby is in distress. Sometimes the heartbeat is present but parents cannot detect it, adding to stress.