I started to write about this in my previous post and then realized it actually belonged in its own post!
The author of Bearing Meaning spends an entire chapter analyzing Williams Obstetrics and the language of birth contained therein. In Williams fetal monitoring is referred to as an "elegant means" of "demonstrating the effect of the forces of labor and delivery on the baby's heart rate." However, as the author of Bearing Meaning (Robbie Kahn) notes, "The tracings don't record labor in a generic sense. They record it under specific conditions--the hospital...Thus, monitor tracings hardly are elegant, if elegant means imparting information at high levels of sophistication. Indeed, the monitor may be simply recording responses characteristic of a woman laboring under the conditions imposed in the hospital rather than imparting sophisticated information about childbirth in general." (emphasis mine).
This observation reminded me of Henci Goer's recent post on the Science and Sensibility blog: The Labor Environment: “Many things that count cannot be counted." In this post, she looks at a recent study published in the June issue of Birth, "gauging the effects of modifying the labor room to encourage mobility, reduce stress and anxiety, and discourage routine medical intervention." The labor environment impacts women's birth experiences in a number of ways (some that cannot be quantified for research studies) and my observation is that fetal monitoring is one of the most significant elements of the labor environment. It creates conditions for laboring women that then alters their normal, physiological, spontaneous responses to labor and thus cannot be seen as accurately reflecting the influence of labor on the baby.
Speaking of fetal monitoring, ACOG just issued new guidelines refining the fetal heart rate monitoring guidelines. The guidelines briefly refer to manual auscultation. Quoted in the release is the following comment: "'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.'"