Electronic fetal monitoring

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Updated: 4/11/2007 2:50 pm
Electronic fetal monitoring measures a baby's heartbeat during labor. Once used routinely, today it's usually limited to situations where there's increased risk, such as when labor is induced, when an epidural (ep-i-DUR-al) anesthetic (an-es-THET-ic) is used, or in cases of high blood pressure. A fetal monitor registers the baby's heartbeat before it's born and can pick up any signs of distress during the process of labor and delivery. The monitor can be attached externally to the mother's abdomen or internally by placing a small electrode on the baby's scalp. Wires lead to a monitor which records the heartbeat. Also, a second tube-like device can be placed in the uterine cavity, to measure the strength of the contractions. Data from the monitors prints out on paper in graph-type form, allowing doctors and nurses to spot abnormal heartrate patterns. External fetal monitoring can be conducted intermittently to allow the mother freedom to change positions and walk around. Internal monitoring relays a more accurate reading, but is more invasive and limits the mother's mobility. The latest type of electronic fetal monitoring uses radio waves to transmit the data to the monitor, thus eliminating the wires and connections, and allowing the mother to be more mobile. Discuss electronic fetal monitoring with your doctor prior to delivery, and be sure to have your preferences noted on your records.

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