Fetal heart rate monitoring during labour--too frequent intervention, too little benefit?

Lancet. 1987 Dec 12;2(8572):1375-7. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(87)91266-9.


For many obstetricians and midwives continuous electronic fetal heart rate monitoring during labour has replaced the traditional method of intermittent auscultation. Of the eight prospective randomised controlled trials designed to assess its value in obstetric care, four were concerned with mothers defined as being at high-risk, three with normal or low-risk patients, and the eighth with the total population of a maternity hospital over several months. None suggested any major advantage of continuous fetal heart rate monitoring over intermittent surveillance in terms of neonatal mortality, morbidity, cord blood pH values, or the five minute Apgar score. The rates of caesarean section and forceps delivery were higher in the continuously monitored group. For low-risk mothers there is a good case for a return to the traditional method of intermittent auscultation with its lower false-positive rate, lesser incidence of intervention, and opportunity for greater contact between the maternity care staff and the mother.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cesarean Section
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Fetal Distress / diagnosis
  • Fetal Monitoring / methods*
  • Heart Rate, Fetal*
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Vacuum Extraction, Obstetrical