What is Electronic Fetal Monitoring?

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  • Written By: Summer Banks
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2020
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Electronic fetal monitoring tracks the heart rate of the fetus in utero. An electronic fetal monitor can also track the strength and duration of a uterine contraction during labor. There are several different methods for using such a device to determine the health an unborn baby, including external and internal monitoring.

External electronic fetal monitoring utilizes ultrasound waves to monitor fetal health. Most often, this form of monitoring utilizes either a stethoscope or flat fetal monitoring pads applied to the stomach of the pregnant mother. The ultrasound waves emitted by the device bounce back the sound of the fetal heart rate.

The external fetal monitor can be used to evaluate the fetus during labor by noting the change in heart rate when the uterus contracts. This is called the contraction stress test. A non-stress test can also be completed with external fetal monitoring. The non-stress test notes the baby's heart rate while the baby is moving and lying at rest.

Internal fetal monitoring is only used after the cervix is dilated and the amniotic sac has ruptured. This method uses a small electrode inserted through the vagina and attached to the scalp of the fetus. The electrode continuously monitors the fetal heart rate and contractions. In most cases, internal electronic fetal monitoring is more accurate than the external method.


Electronic fetal monitoring certification is required, in most health settings, so the nurse or technician can effectively read the results of the monitor. An electronic monitoring course typically offers instruction on how to use fetal monitors and how to read the results of the testing. Nurses, doctors, medical assistants and nurse practitioners, among other health care professionals, can hold electronic fetal monitoring certifications.

There are at least two different types of electronic fetal monitoring education. These include online courses and offline courses. An online course can be utilized for continuing education, new education and as preparation for certification. An offline course may offer the same education but the classes are usually conducted in a traditional school setting, as opposed to an electronic classroom accessed by a personal computer.

Electronic fetal monitoring results can establish the positive or negative health conditions of the baby. For instance, the normal or healthy range for a baby's heart rate is between 120 and 160 beats per minute. If a baby's heart rate drops below 120 or rises above 160, there could be cause for concern. Fetal monitoring is a tool to help doctors diagnose and treat potential problems in utero and after birth.


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