The Use of Telemetry to Monitor the Fetal Heart During Labour: a mixed methods study

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Kylie Watson


Background: Wireless fetal heart rate monitoring (telemetry) is increasingly being used by maternity units in the UK. Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care and Excellence recommend that telemetry is offered to any woman who needs continuous monitoring of the fetal heart in labour. There is no contemporary evidence on the use of telemetry in the UK. Aims: To gather in-depth knowledge about the experiences of women and midwives using telemetry to monitor the fetal heart in labour and to assess any impact that the use of telemetry may have on clinical outcomes, mobility in labour or control and satisfaction. Study design: A convergent parallel mixed methods design was chosen. Methods: Qualitative methods included in-depth interviews with 10 women, 2 partners, 12 midwives and one student midwife from two NHS Trusts in the Northwest of England. A constructivist grounded theory methodology was employed for this phase and used both purposive and theoretical sampling. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The quantitative phase recruited 161 women from both sites and compared clinical outcome and mobility data from 74 women who used telemetry during labour and 87 women who had conventional wired monitoring. Women also were asked to complete a questionnaire in the postnatal period on control and satisfaction during labour and birth. Questionnaire data was analysed from 128 women, 64 who used telemetry and 64 who had conventional wired monitoring. Both sets of data were integrated to give an overall broad understanding of telemetry use. Findings: The grounded theory core category was ‘Telemetry: A Sense of Normality’ and was described by three sub-categories. ‘Being Free’ described women being more mobile when using telemetry in labour and experiencing greater feelings of control, normality, and support. Telemetry also increased dignity for women as they were able to use the bathroom independently and with ease. ‘Enabling and facilitating’ described midwives facilitating the use of telemetry, encouraging mobility and using midwifery skills including caring for women in a birth pool. ‘Culture and Change’ described the different maternity unit cultures and how this impacted on the use of telemetry. Telemetry was viewed as increasing choice and equity for women with more complex pregnancies. Within the quantitative phase there was no difference in the aggregate scores for either the Perceived Control in Childbirth (PCCh) scale or the Satisfaction with Childbirth (SWCh) scale. Sub-group analysis found that women who used telemetry for the majority of the time the fetus was continuously monitored in labour scored a higher aggregate score for perceived control during labour (mean ± SD; 5.3 ±0.8 telemetry vs. 4.9 ± 0.9 wired, p = 0.047). Mobility data found that women using telemetry spent more time off the bed in labour and adopted more upright positions for birth. Conclusions: Both qualitative and quantitative findings confirmed that women were more mobile in labour when using telemetry to monitor the fetal heart and integrated findings also found that telemetry increased feelings of control in labour. The use of telemetry had a positive impact on women who required continuous monitoring in labour and engendered a sense of normality for both women and midwives. The use of telemetry contributes to humanising birth for women requiring more complex care in labour and birth.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2020