Nowadays, technology plays an important role in all the aspects of human life, including childbirth. Almost all expectant mothers are familiar with fetal monitors – ultrasound devices which use the Doppler Effect in order to measure the heart rate of the fetus during pregnancy and labor.
For the duration of labor, the fetal heartbeat is constantly monitored. A normal heart rate indicates that there are no dangerous changes in the baby’s condition that would require a Cesarean delivery. Fetal Dopplers, however, are often unable to provide enough information about possible risks and complications. That’s why the fetal oxygen monitor was invented.
Also called a fetal pulse oximeter, this device is a new type of oxygen monitor that can be used only by specialists. Its purpose is to determine the blood oxygen levels of the unborn baby during labor. An additional function of this gadget is the measurement of the baby’s heart beat.
How does the fetal oxygen monitor work? During labor, the probe of the oximeter is inserted in the pregnant woman’s birth canal. After being placed on the scalp of the fetus, the sensor will emit light frequencies that will determine the percentage of saturated hemoglobin in the baby’s blood. The sensor is usually attached to a computer that will display and analyze the results.
The purpose of the fetal pulse oximeter is to determine the condition of the fetus during labor. It is used in situations when the traditional fetal monitoring shows a non-reassuring heart rate – which often means that the baby is not getting enough oxygen. Many specialists consider that by receiving the additional information offered by the blood oxygen monitor, they can have a better understanding of the state of the baby during difficult labors.
The developers of fetal oxygen monitoring hoped to reduce the rate of Cesarean sections among patients diagnosed with a non-reassuring fetal condition. For example, if the baby has an abnormal heart rate, but his oxygenation is good, a C-section might not be necessary (and vice-versa).
Fetal oxygen monitoring is intended for clinical use only! It can be used only after the pregnant woman’s water has broken and the baby is in the head down position. It should not be used during water births or in women with sexually transmitted diseases.
Even if this device seems very useful, it has generated many critics. Recently, a few studies about fetal oximetry were published – they state that the use of this monitor does not decrease the overall rate of C-sections among patients with possible delivery complications.
For this reason, many doctors consider that these devices should not be allowed to become a part of routine care. In their opinion, it’s not reasonable to invest in something that has no apparent benefits. Some specialists even consider that fetal monitoring in general is a fairly dangerous practice increasing the nervousness of doctors and patients whenever the gadget shows an abnormal reading (which often can happen because of a malfunction, not because of the worsening condition of the baby).
One way or the other, fetal monitors can definitely be useful in difficult labors, when additional information could save the life of the baby and the mother. Of course, technology has many downsides and most of its effects on our health remain unknown. At the same time, if used wisely, it can be a life-savior.