ACOG refines guidelines for fetal monitoring in labor
ACOG recently updated guidelines for fetal monitoring in labor. They call it a refinement. Very interesting.
Directly from the press release “Since 1980, the use of EFM has grown dramatically, from being used on 45% of pregnant women in labor to 85% in 2002,” says George A. Macones, MD, who headed the development of the ACOG document. “Although EFM is the most common obstetric procedure today, unfortunately it hasn’t reduced perinatal mortality or the risk of cerebral palsy. In fact, the rate of cerebral palsy has essentially remained the same since World War II despite fetal monitoring and all of our advancements in treatments and interventions.” That is an increase in use by 89% with what benefit to mothers and babies? More cesarean? More interventions and managed labors? Perinatal mortality hasn’t decreased. Shocking really. So for the needs and most likely benefit of the truly high-risk moms and babies all women have been subjected to more and more electronic monitoring in labor resulting in more morbidity for mothers and babies.
Apparently a big issue is that there are huge discrepancies in interpretation when assessing the FHT strips by physicians. There was a group of 4 physicians who initially assessed 50 FHT tracings and only agreed 22% of the time. Then two months later the same 4 physicians were asked to re-assess the same 50 tracings and their own evaluations varied nearly 1 in 5. I have heard this over and over anecdotally from labor and delivery nurses through the years. That no one can agree. That the variance is so great. Better to treat just in case whether by interventions or a cesarean. I have been told that even a 40 hour course on FHT assessment leaves one without any clear advancement of skill or knowledge. The training actually left one individual less inclined to trust assessment. So how does this comfort the expecting woman? Knowing that the machine that rules so much of labor and delivery in combination with the human element is so fallible. Now that is non-reassuring in real life application.
So what can be done? Unless there is a real high-risk situation that needs to be addressed, ask for intermittent auscultation with a handheld doppler or even better with a fetascope. When a nurse, midwife or doctor actually listens personally to a baby with a fetascope there is no machine interpreting sound. It is with their own ear and skill assessing your baby.
The other thing to remember is keeping away from routine use of induction, narcotic use, and epidural use in labor can greatly improve the opportunity to remain low-risk and healthy. Thus not requiring continuous fetal monitoring.
I only touched on a few aspects of the new guidelines. For a more complete breakdown of the refined guidelines, the NY Times did a nice piece.