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Monday, September 28, 1998 Published at 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK


Oxygen monitor 'could reduce Caesarian births'

The oxygen monitor could prevent some Caesarian births

A machine which monitors a foetus' oxygen levels during labour could cut the number of Caesarean births, doctors are claiming.

Foetal Pulse Oximetry continuously measures the level of oxygen in a baby as it is being born.

Lack of oxygen can result in brain damage or, in extreme cases, death.

The machine has been tested on the continent and in some hospitals in the UK, but is not widely known to the public.

It involves introducing a thin rubber tube called a foetal oxygen sensor into the uterus during labour.

The tube is placed against the baby's cheek or forehead where it gathers information about its oxygen levels.


It works by shining a light onto the baby. The reflection from the light shows the level of oxygen in its blood.

Previously, pulse oximetry has been used externally on adults and babies.

But the new technology means it can be used internally.

Manufacturer Nellcor Puritan Bennett has also linked up with computer firm Hewlett Packard.

This means pulse oximetry is added to Hewlett Packard's neo-natal monitors, which monitor for other conditions such as foetal heart rate.

"It is a valuable addition to the range of monitors available to doctors," said a spokeswoman for Nellcor Puritan Bennett.


Doctors believe it could reduce the number of Caesareans which are undertaken because of fears the foetus may be losing oxygen.

[ image: Lack of oxygen in foetuses can lead to brain damage and death]
Lack of oxygen in foetuses can lead to brain damage and death
Dr Ed Howarth at Leicester General Hospital's maternity unit said his hospital had used Foetal Pulse Oximetry in the past.

He said the technology could reduce the number of Caesarian, forceps and vacuum deliveries done because of fears of risk to the foetus.

However, he did not believe it would make a great overall impact on the number of Caesarian deliveries as he said many were done on the mother's request anyway.

"I believe they will continue to rise for other reasons," he said.

Cost effective

He added that it would only prove cost effective in hospitals where there was a high rate of Caesarians.

And he said the fact that it was non-invasive meant that it would be reassuring for mothers.

It would avoid the need, for example, for blood tests on the foetus.

This involves taking a blood sample from the foetus' scalp.

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