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Electronic Fetal Monitoring
Electronic fetal monitoring provides a real-time picture of the baby’s heart rate, the mother’s heart rate and the mother’s contraction pattern.
It’s one of the best indicators of how a fetus is tolerating labor. If, following contractions, the fetal heart rate dips below 90 beats per second on a regular basis and fails to return to its baseline, it may be evidence that the fetus is no longer able to tolerate labor and is beginning to decompensate. The fetal brain controls the fetal heart rate, and when the heart rate begins to evidence certain patterns, it can be an important early warning sign to the doctors and nurses monitoring labor.
The precise numbers of what is a “normal” heart rate for a fetus vary depending upon gestational age of the fetus and other factors. Significantly, the heart rate pattern should reflect regular variation in the heart rate. A “flat” heart rate for an extended period of time is a worrisome signal that the baby’s brain is no longer able to adapt to the changes in the intrauterine environment.
In any case where there is suspicion of a birth injury from a delay in effectuating delivery or a fetus that was born very depressed, the heart rate monitoring strips should be reviewed to determine if this process was evident long before delivery and could have been prevented with earlier intervention.