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In a prospective audit of the obstetric management of 1210 consecutive deliveries the association was investigated between the need for operative delivery for fetal distress during labour and the condition of the newborn infant. Operative delivery was performed for only 11.5% of the newborn infants with severe acidosis at birth (umbilical artery pH < 7.12, base deficit > 12 mmol (mEq)/l), 24.1% of those with an Apgar score < 7 at one minute, and 15.8% of those with both severe acidosis and a one minute Apgar score < 7. Most of the infants delivered operatively were in a vigorous condition at birth and did not have severe acidosis. Fetal blood sampling was done in 4.0% of labours. As none of the fetal blood values were less than 7.20 and only three of the infants sampled in utero suffered severe acidosis at birth, fetal blood sampling would have had to be performed much more often to provide a useful guide to metabolic state at birth. While the large majority of 'at risk' fetuses had continuous fetal heart rate monitoring in labour, this had not been provided in 48.7% of the labours of infants with severe acidosis, 38.7% of infants with a one minute Apgar score < 7, and 47.4% of infants with both severe acidosis and a one minute Apgar score < 7. Continuous fetal heart rate monitoring was associated with a much higher incidence of operative delivery for fetal distress than was intermittent fetal heart rate auscultation. These results suggest an urgent need to review present methods for assessing the intrapartum condition of the fetus, making the diagnosis of fetal distress, and assessing the condition of the infant at birth.

Original publication




Journal article


British Medical Journal

Publication Date





943 - 945