Fetal testing and monitoring are done to ensure that a fetus is healthy and growing at an acceptable rate. Fetal tests can help detect potential and actual problems. This gives the doctors an opportunity to treat the problem before it further develops, if at all possible. When treatment is not possible, fetal monitoring will at the very least alert both the doctor and the parents that a problem exists and will allow them to track development.

Fetal monitoring can be done at a birthing center, hospital, doctor’s office or even a person’s own home by a doctor, nurse or midwife. There are several types of monitoring, which we will discuss below.

Fetal Monitoring Equipment
Several types of equipment are used for fetal monitoring. An ultrasound machine and electronic fetal monitor are two of the most common. An internal fetal monitor might also be used. The latter requires the use of fetal scalp electrodes and a tocodynamometer.

Types of Fetal Monitoring
Most pregnant women are administered at least one ultrasound. An initial ultrasound may be given to determine how far along the pregnancy is, though it is often not. An ultrasound to determine the sex of the baby will be administered. Additional ultrasounds are generally not given unless it is an at-risk pregnancy.

Internal monitoring may be done when a woman is in labor. There are risks associated with this type of monitoring, the most serious being infection. An internal monitor is inserted into the cervix, via a catheter. The catheter is used to insert electrodes which are placed on the baby’s scalp. This type of monitor will measure the baby’s vital signs.

Why Fetal Monitoring?
Fetal monitoring is done to keep track of the baby’s heart rate and to ensure that everything is functioning normally. If it is discovered that it is not, certain actions will be taken, depending on the problem.  

Fetal monitoring and testing occur throughout a woman’s pregnancy. Women with high-risk pregnancies will undergo more monitoring than those with normal pregnancies. For instance, women with diabetes, Preeclampsia, high blood pressure, multiple babies, early contractions or noted problems with their thyroid may be monitored more closely and more frequently, than moms who don’t have any of these problems.

Fetal Monitoring: Invasive versus Non-invasive Tests
Fetal monitoring varies in terms of invasiveness. Some monitoring is much more invasive than others. For instance, when a doctor listens to a pregnant woman’s stomach with his stethoscope to hear the baby’s heartbeat, this is a minimally invasive test or form of monitoring. The same could be said of an external electronic monitoring device. An ultrasound, another fetal monitoring device isn’t considered invasive either. Internal monitoring, however, is. This type of monitoring is typically used when the baby is at risk or when eternal monitoring isn’t working well.

Fetal monitoring can be done a number of ways. Certain types of monitoring will be administered to every baby. Others will not be. A person’s doctor will decide and when and what types of device are utilized for monitoring purposes.


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