Electronic fetal monitoring was first used at Yale University in the 1950s and is a great asset in terms of checking fetal well being. Unless a woman delivers at home, most pregnant women will have fetal monitoring during the time that they’re in labor. The fetal monitor measures both the baby’s heart rate and the mother’s uterine contractions. Why is this important? Because the vein in the baby’s umbilical cord receives oxygen which is necessary for growth and development, especially in the brain. When the uterus contracts, the blood flow to the baby is reduced, then increases once the contraction is over. The fetal monitor essentially tells us two important things: (1) whether the baby is tolerating labor and (2) whether it’s receiving enough oxygen.
Of four million babies born in the US each year, approximately 875,000 will experience birth injuries. What is a birth injury? It’s any type of injury suffered by an infant as a result of the birthing process. Most birth injuries can be avoided if someone is paying attention. Babies can’t tell us when they’re in trouble with their mouths, but they can certainly do so with their hearts. The signs of normal and abnormal fetal heart tracings are included in The Smart Mother’s Guide to a Better Pregnancy. Fetal tracings are either reassuring (meaning good) or nonreassuring (not good). If the fetal tracing is nonreassuring, then the baby needs to be delivered as quickly as possible.
Despite our current healthcare challenges, babies will continue to be born. I therefore encourage all pregnant women, childbirth educators and doulas to take these bold new steps:
- Become familiar with fetal tracings and the distinction between reassuring and nonreassuring traces (pages 201 and 202 of The Smart Mothers Guide®)
- Doulas should become Labor Room Advocates who can be another set of eyes and ears that can address any issues during labor and make certain that appropriate communication of hospital staff (including the status of the fetal tracing) is known during a shift change
- Become familiar with a high-risk specialist who can offer a second opinion in case there is a disagreement regarding labor room management
When your baby’s fetal monitor attempts to “talk” to you, everyone should understand what it’s saying.