Intermittent vs Continuous Fetal Monitoring: What are they and which is better?
Whether in a hospital, freestanding birth center, or planned home birth, your baby’s heart rate will be monitored throughout your labor until birth.
During labor the most common way to monitor baby’s heart rate is with a doppler; either electronic fetal monitoring in a hospital which tracks baby’s heart rate as well as mom’s contractions with a pressure sensor or a handheld unit.
Electronic fetal monitoring in a hospital can either be continuous or intermittent. Some hospitals offer wireless sensors so movement is not restricted, otherwise the sensors placed on your belly are connected to the machine. With Intermittent EFM, you generally wear the sensors for 20-30 minutes of each hour.
Intermittent monitoring (also referred to as auscultation) at home or freestanding birth center usually just involves a hand held doppler. Fetoscopes or pinards which may be used by midwives during prenatals can be more challenging to use frequently during labor due to uterine contractions and the positions moms choose. Intermittent monitoring is generally done every 15-30 minutes during active labor and every 5-15 minutes while pushing, depending on the midwife’s guidelines.
So which is better? Based on the evidence, the best option for most women and babies is intermittent auscultation!
Want to learn more? Check out the article from Evidence Based Birth!