Q: Why is it important to monitor a baby's heart rate during labor?

A: Doctors keep tabs on your baby's heart rate as a way to tell how well he's handling labor and delivery. A healthy heart rate should be strong and between 120 and 160 beats per minute; anything higher or lower could be a sign that your baby's having trouble. Monitoring this vital sign during labor can alert your doctor to a potential problem and let her know whether your baby's delivery needs to be speeded up.Your baby's heart rate can be monitored in several ways:• With a Doppler ultrasound, which is a small handheld tool that's placed on your belly to transmit the fetal heartbeat.• With a fetoscope, which is a version of the traditional stethoscope used for unborn babies.• With electronic fetal monitoring, either external or internal, which provides a continuous record of your baby's heart rate. External monitoring involves wrapping around your belly two belts that are fitted with small monitoring devices. Internal monitoring requires placing a small electrode on your baby's scalp (this can only be done once your water has broken). Recently, the use of continuous electronic monitoring has been questioned by some who feel that the technology isn't good enough to reliably judge the baby's condition. However, most obstetricians agree that some information is better than none. Ultimately, your doctor will decide how to monitor your baby's heart rate during labor.

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