Checks and monitoring during labour

Your midwife will monitor you and your baby regularly throughout labour to make sure you’re both okay and everything's going as it should.

Regular checks can help to pick up any potential problems early.

What your midwife will check

Your midwife will check:

  • your blood pressure, pulse and temperature
  • your urine
  • how often you’re having contractions, how long they last and how strong they are

You may be offered a vaginal examination. This is to check how far dilated your cervix is, the position of the baby’s head and how far down the birth canal it is.

Heart rate tells a lot about baby

Baby monitored during labour
Your midwife will might listen to your baby’s heart using a machine called a transducer held against your abdomen NHS Health Scotland

Measuring your baby’s heart rate is a good way of checking their health and strength throughout labour and birth.

Your midwife will listen to your baby’s heart every 15 minutes in the first stage of labour and after most contractions once you’re in the second stage.

If you have any complications, continuous monitoring of your baby’s heartbeat may be suggested.

How baby's monitored

There are different ways to monitor baby, including:

  • Pinard stethoscope, a type of ear trumpet put on your abdomen to let the midwife hear and count baby's heartbeat
  • Doppler, a small portable machine using ultrasound through a small transmitter-receiver on your abdomen to pick up baby’s heartbeat.
  • Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM)
  • Telemetry

Constant monitoring with EFM

EFM uses ultrasound waves to hear your baby’s heart. Your midwife uses a machine called a transducer, held against your abdomen or a small electrode clipped onto your baby’s scalp or bottom if your baby's breech.

EFM monitors your baby continuously. For some babies this can be very important - if they are at risk or if it's known that there may be a problem.

However:

  • in most cases, continuous EFM is not very useful in uncomplicated labour
  • interpreting the monitor reading is a highly skilled job.
  • even very experienced obstetricians can differ in opinion about what is a 'normal' reading, and what may give cause for concern

In many hospitals midwives agree that continuous EFM is not needed for normal labour, especially in the first stage.

Sometimes a Doppler or Pinard stethoscope is used instead.

Using Telemetry

This makes use of the same sort of transducer or scalp electrode as EFM, but sends radio signals to a receiver.

As you're not actually attached to the monitor by wires, you can move around if you stay within its range.

Telemetry isn’t available everywhere.