Fetal heart rate monitoring is a modern technology used in childbirth that has been highly debated. Some doctors feel the monitors, which measure the baby's heart rate during labor, provide valuable information. Others, including some studies, suggest electronic monitors are unnecessary and were adapted without concrete evidence that they're helpful.
Research published Saturday comes down on the side of using monitors. Scientists examined data from the National Birth Cohort of more than 1.9 million U.S. births in which a single baby was delivered. Among this group, 88% of babies were monitored during labor. The researchers found the risk of infant death was 3.0 per 1,000 births for monitored babies and 3.8 per 1,000 births for babies born without fetal heart monitoring.
In low-risk pregnancies, fetal health rate monitoring was also linked to a decreased risk of low Apgar scores (which reflect the baby's health). In high-risk pregnancies, monitoring was associated with a reduced risk of infant seizures.
While studies have suggested no difference in outcome with the use of fetal heart rate monitors, those papers may not reflect the realities of everyday medicine, said the authors of the new study.