A device to directly measure blood oxygen saturation in a fetus during labor has been developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis. By providing better information about the health of a fetus right before birth, the device could both reduce the rate of cesarean sections and improve outcomes in difficult deliveries.
Since the 1970s, U.S. obstetricians have monitored fetal heart rate and the mother’s rate of contractions as a way to assess the health of the fetus during labor. Taken together, these measurements are a proxy for fetal blood oxygen levels. If the fetus is deprived of oxygen before birth, it may suffer lasting damage or die — leading doctors to perform C-sections if they think a fetus is getting into trouble.
This practice has led to a high rate of C-sections, but without much improvement in the rate of fetal complications associated with oxygen deficiency.
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