Your baby’s heartbeat tells you more than a first “Hello”. Discover if your baby’s heart rate is “normal” and how to ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery based on your baby’s heart rate.
What is Fetal Heart Rate?
The fetal heart rate refers to the baby’s heartbeat in utero and usually ranges between 110 to 160 beats per minute (bpm). The heart rate can vary throughout pregnancy and could increase all the way up to 170 bpm. It is monitored using a graph that records the fetal heart rate curve and rhythm for clinical analysis. It helps to correctly evaluate the fetus’s condition in the uterus harmlessly and is commonly carried out during late pregnancy.
Understanding Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring
The fetal heart rate monitoring measures the heart rate and rhythm of the baby’s heart. Monitoring the heart helps your doctors understand the condition of your baby. Each prenatal appointment will include monitoring the baby’s heartbeat throughout the entire duration of a pregnancy.
The fetus’s heart rate can change depending on his response to different conditions in the uterus. The fetal heart monitoring is done in two different ways:
1) External fetal heart monitoring
A Doppler ultrasound device is normally used by the doctor to check on the baby’s heartbeat through the mother’s belly. This device is most often used during prenatal visits to check the fetal heart rate or to monitor the fetus’s heartbeat during the labour process.
2) Internal fetal heart monitoring
A transducer is put on the fetus’s scalp during labour to monitor the fetal heart rate. A wire will run from the fetus through the mother’s cervix, which is then connected to a monitor. This method gives doctors a better reading because movement does not affect its measurements, but it can only be done if the amniotic sac has broken and the cervix has opened.
Monitoring your fetal heart rate
You can have your fetal heart monitored externally during the prenatal checkups at a clinic or hospital which usually takes approximately 20 minutes. Nevertheless, the time may exceed more than an hour for women with high-risk pregnancies.
Should I buy a fetal heart home-monitoring device?
There are two methods for monitoring the fetal heart rate at home; using a fetal doppler (daptone) or a fetoscope.
Daptone is an ultrasound device that can monitor average fetal heart rate but it can only detect heartbeats from week 9 up to week 14 of pregnancy and require manual count. A fetoscope can detect heartbeats at 17 to 20 weeks but it requires another person to listen to the heartbeat and count manually.
However, both devices require skills and knowledge about the fetus’s position to interpret the rate correctly. Therefore, it is not advisable to purchase these equipment for home use as they may be interpreted wrongly and give you a false sense of reassurance or otherwise.
The best thing that you can do is monitor your fetal movement and diligently filling the fetal kick chart to ensure the wellbeing of your fetus. If you note any changes in the fetus’s movement or less activity, please visit your doctor immediately to check on your fetus’s heart condition.
Abnormal fetal heart performance
A normal fetal heart rate ranges between 110-160 beats per minute. However, if the fetal heart rate is out of this range or the heartbeat is irregular, it may be considered abnormal. The heart rate can vary depending on your condition as well as the uterus condition but may also be due to the fetus not getting sufficient oxygen or other issues which may require medical attention.
Why might I need fetal heart monitoring?
Fetal heart rate monitoring is vital if you have a high-risk pregnancy. High risk pregnancies include those where the mothers have diabetes or high blood pressure. A fetus that is not developing or growing as normal is also considered high risk.
Fetal heart rate monitoring may also be used to check the fetus’s condition after administrating medication. This is to ensure that the fetus’s condition is not compromised and pregnancy can be continued up to term.