Fetal monitoring often conjures an image of a pregnant woman lying down with straps around her full belly and is attached to a machine to monitor her baby's heart rate. This process is called as electronic fetal monitoring. While this is the commonly seen kind of monitoring, there are other ways of monitoring the baby's heart rate at different stages of the pregnancy.
Usually, fetal monitoring is defined as the monitoring of the baby's heart rate to check if he is undergoing any kind of stress during labor and birth. Electronic fetal monitoring is often used during this time. However, it can also be used for a contraction stress test, non-stress test, etc. It records the baby's heart beat in relation to the contractions the mother feels. During the use of this machine, the mother's mobility is very limited.
The fetoscope is another instrument that can be used for monitoring your baby. It is a special stethoscope that can be used to hear the baby's heart beat at about 18 weeks and more. The use of a fetoscope lessens the mechanical errors expected from a machine since a live person is on the other end for evaluation. Nevertheless, the person must be well-trained to note any irregularities.
The Doppler instrument is probably an instrument that most people are familiar with. Usually, your obstetrician will use this instrument during a prenatal visit to hear your baby's heart beat. It uses an ultrasound to monitor your baby's heart rate and amplifies the sound through speaker or ear pieces. The Doppler does not limit the mother's mobility.
Another kind of fetal monitoring is the internal fetal monitoring. This kind of monitoring is more appropriate for the high risk mother. It involves having an electrode attached to the baby's head to monitor the baby's heart beat and a pressure catheter to observe the contractions.
Telemetry monitoring is similar to electronic fetal monitoring. The only difference is the mobility is not limited because a transmitter located on the mother's thigh will send continuous radio signals to the nurses' station.
With all the different types of monitoring for your baby, one can not say that a certain type is the right one for a particular individual. It really depends on a number of factors including medical conditions and how you want to monitor the baby during pregnancy and labor. You should talk to your health care provider about your concerns so you can get a solution for your situation.
If you are not a high risk patient, continuous monitoring is not likely medically necessary. You can choose to have one done continuously for your peace of mind. From time to time, however, you have to go to your provider to have a prenatal checkup.