Fetal heart rate as an indicator of fetal distress

The normal fetal heart rate at term (37 weeks and more) is in the range of 120–160 beats/minute. If the fetal heart rate counted at any time in labour is either below 120 beats/minute or above 160 beats/minute, it is a warning for you to count it more frequently until it has stabilised within the normal range. It is common for the fetal heart rate to be a bit out of the normal range for a short while and then return to normal. However, fetal distress during labour and delivery can be expressed as:

  • Fetal heart beat persistently (for 10 minutes or more) remains below 120 beats/minute (doctors call this persistent fetal bradycardia).
  • Fetal heart beat persistently (for 10 minutes or more) remains above 160 beats/minute (doctors call this persistent fetal tachycardia).
Last modified: Sunday, 18 May 2014, 7:24 PM