Both doctors and midwives monitor mothers and their babies during delivery. If you are given the option between intermittent and continual monitoring, however, use the following factors to help you decide which is right for your labor experience.
During continual monitoring (also called "continuous monitoring" or "electronic fetal monitoring"), both your heartbeat and that of your baby are monitored with sensors attached to your abdomen. This category also involves other types of ongoing monitoring, such as:
- Measuring the intensity and frequency of contractions
- Evaluating oxygen saturation levels in your blood
- Recording your blood pressure on a continuous cycle
If you give birth in a hospital, you are far more likely to receive continuous monitoring. You will probably spend most or all of your delivery lying down in bed where doctors and nurses can evaluate your progress toward birth.
Additionally, there are two primary types of continual monitoring your doctor might use:
- External monitoring uses the sensors mentioned above and ultrasound transmitters.
- Internal monitoring uses sensors and catheters to monitor your baby internally.
The method your doctor selects will depend on his or her preferences as well as the unique circumstances surrounding your delivery.
The other option is intermittent monitoring, which means evaluating physical data periodically rather than all the time. Instead of machines and sensors, your doctor or midwife will probably use a special stethoscope to check your heart rate at regular intervals.
Midwives use intermittent monitoring more frequently than doctors. Since midwives often assist with births in non-standard locations, such as birthing centers or the homes of their patients, they don't use as many types of complex monitoring equipment.
However, some doctors have also converted to this type of patient care. One study, for example, concluded that intermittent fetal monitoring reduced the frequency of cesarean sections (C-sections) in births by 11%.
Movement During Labor
Midwives often encourage their patients to move around during the labor process. You might want to:
- Walk around the room
- Sit on a birthing ball
- Stretch your muscles
If you would like more freedom of movement during labor, you might prefer intermittent monitoring. Since you aren't connected to any machines, you're free to find a comfortable position out of bed.
Continual monitoring, on the other hand, might be best for you if your doctor has categorized your pregnancy as "high risk". Several factors might place in your pregnancy under this umbrella, including:
- Disease: Autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and other conditions increase risks during pregnancy.
- Age: If you are over the age of 35, you might be considered at higher risk for delivery complications.
- Health Issues: You might be high-risk if you've been diagnosed with health problems like high blood pressure.
A delivery also becomes high-risk if you enter labor prematurely (before 37 weeks). Ask your doctor or midwife about your risk classification so you understand the risks and how they inform the monitoring process.
If you decide you want to give birth with an epidural (pain medication delivered through the spine), you will require continual monitoring. This is because the medications administered with an epidural can result in side effects.
For a natural birth, on the other hand, intermittent monitoring is often all that is required. If you want to experience birth as naturally as possible, intermittent monitoring might help you feel more grounded and less restricted.
Deciding Between Continual and Intermittent Monitoring
Talk to your doctor or midwife at places like Women's Healthcare Associates LLC about your preferences well in advance of delivery. If you don't have enough information to form an opinion, bring a list of questions to your next appointment or meeting so you're as informed as possible.