Maternal heart rate patterns in the first and second stages of labor

Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2012 May;91(5):598-604. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0412.2012.01371.x. Epub 2012 Mar 29.


Objective. To analyze typical maternal heart rate (MHR) patterns in the first and second stages of labor. Design. Observational study. Setting. Tertiary care community hospital. Population. Normal term parturients with epidural anesthesia. Methods. Confirmed MHR and uterine activity were simultaneously recorded. The average MHR was analyzed 10 seconds before, as well as at the peak of, each contraction and/or pushing effort. Each woman contributed one datapoint at each time point to the analysis. Main outcome measure. Change in MHR during contractions. Results. First stage: 7.6±2.1 contractions per woman (n=18) were analyzed. Average MHR decreased during contractions: from 83±13 to 74±10bpm; p<0.001). In 56% (10/18) of the women, 'early' type decelerations were seen in at least 50% of contractions. Second stage: 3.5±1.5 contractions per woman. All women (n=15) showed MHR accelerations during every pushing effort (ΔMHR: +35±13bpm; 88±14 to 123±17bpm; p<0.001). MHR was persistently >100bpm in three women (17%) in the first stage, and in four women (27%) in the second stage. Peak MHR >140bpm occurred during pushing in 20%. Conclusion. Decreases in MHR during contractions in the first stage of labor can mimic fetal heart rate (FHR) accelerations as well as early type decelerations. Thus, first stage tracings with a low baseline and early type decelerations may be maternal in origin and FHR should be independently confirmed in such tracings. Because second stage MHR accelerations generally show greater amplitude than FHR accelerations, tracings with repetitive accelerations during contractions (especially when Δ >20bpm) should be considered MHR until proven otherwise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Heart Rate, Fetal / physiology
  • Humans
  • Labor Stage, First / physiology*
  • Labor Stage, Second / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Uterine Contraction / physiology