Your Contraction Monitor: What You See is Not Always What You Get
“Ooooo, that was a good one!” my patient’s husband proclaimed, his eyes fixated on the monitor screen where her contractions were displayed, lined up one after another, like perfect sledding hills. “Did you feel that one, honey?” he asked. “It was huge!”
In a pretty common scenario, I often find my patients, or my patients’ family members transfixed by the monitors that display contractions and the baby’s heart rate during labor.
But the truth is, those monitors aren’t exactly accurate.
If you find yourself being monitored with an external monitor—the kind that straps to your stomach—you should understand that external monitors cannot measure the intensity of your contraction. All they can measure is how far apart the contractions are occurring. They can tell you how often the contractions are occurring and how long they are lasting, but they cannot tell how strong they are.
Because it’s simply measuring a contraction from the outside, an external contraction monitor can’t really distinguish from those crazyhardattheendoflabor contractions or their smaller sisters more early on during labor.
You may see what looks like a “large” contraction on the monitor, based on its size, but all the monitor is picking up is determined by how tight the monitor is to your stomach. If you are a very slender woman with a little pregnant belly, your contractions may look huge on the monitor but feel barely noticeable to you; conversely, if you are a pregnant woman with extra weight in your stomach, the contractions may look small on the screen and be excruciatingly painful to you.
Body position can also affect how the monitors pick up your contractions. If you are side-lying, for instance, you may not get a good reading on how often your contractions are occurring and your nurse may need to adjust the monitor or have you change positions.
Many patients are surprised to learn that external contraction monitors cannot measure the intensity of their contractions, but I find that educating them on this before labor can help to relax and learn to trust their bodies, not a monitor.
What kind of monitoring have you used while in labor – external, internal, your own sense of what is happening or a combination?
Image via Flickr: tiarescott