A fetoscope, one of the tools used for fetal monitoring, is similar to a stethoscope. It works by amplifying the sound of the baby's heartbeat. It can be used at any time during labour. It is a non-invasive method of monitoring, meaning that it carries no side effects, risks, and does not require the use of extra interventions.
The main benefits of choosing fetoscopic monitoring are that it is the least-invasive form of monitoring. It carries the lowest rate of false alarms of fetal distress, has no adverse effects for the baby, does not restrict the mother from freely moving or using water during labor, and can be done on an intermittent monitoring schedule. There are also no risks of increased interventions when this type of monitoring is selected. The only drawback of this method is that is cannot be used when continuous monitoring is truly medically indicated.
Despite its many benefits and limited drawbacks, a fetoscope is rarely available for use in hospitals. It's a low tech option that has been replaced by the more invasive and "hands-off" ease of continuous electronic monitoring. To use this type of monitoring, more direct patient contact and 1:1 care would be needed than is currently standard practice in hospitals. It would require a care provider or nurse to be physically present with the labouring mother and manually listen to the fetal heart tones every 15-30 minutes.
In a hospital birth, standard practice is to place a continuous electronic fetal monitor on the mother's abdomen, tethering her to bed, so that multiple mothers can be monitored at one time from the convenience of the nurse's station.
For these reasons, a fetoscope is currently used almost exclusively by midwives during homebirths. If this type of monitoring were routinely used in hospitals, higher staffing levels would be required with more 1:1 patient contact time. This would increase support to mothers during labor, ease anxiety, lower rates of false alarms, and increase patient satisfaction, but it would also cost more money.
Page Last Modified by Catherine Beier, MS, CBE
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