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Electronic foetal monitoring system, United Kingdom, 1980

The baby’s heartbeat and the mother’s contractions are continuously monitored during childbirth using machines like this. Changes in foetal heart rate often prompt medical intervention. Such machines are symbolic of the so-called medicalisation of childbirth. It was initially sometimes difficult to make sense of and interpret the graph-like traces. There was also controversy about how useful the traces were. However, these monitors are now common in hospital maternity wards. This example was made by Sonicaid.

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Glossary: pregnancy

The condition of having a developing unborn embryo or foetus in the body. A human pregnancy is usually of 40 weeks gestation.

Glossary: obstetrics

A branch of medicine dealing with the care of women. This care occurs during pregnancy, childbirth, and the period of recovery from childbirth.

Glossary: foetal monitor

Any piece of equipment used to monitor the foetus to ensure a healthy pregnancy.

Glossary: foetal heart rate monitoring

Measuring the heart rate of the foetus during childbirth is important in modern, medicalised childbirth. The changing beats per minute rate is detected via an electronic foetal heart monitor. The rate can be observed during the birthing process and may prompt medical intervention.