Fetal scalp pH testing

Fetal scalp blood sampling is a quick test your health care provider can use to check if your baby is getting enough oxygen during labor.

Sometimes fetal heart monitoring doesn’t provide enough information about how the baby is doing with the stress of labor. In these cases, testing the scalp pH can help the health care provider decide whether the baby is getting enough oxygen during labor. This helps the provider decide if the baby is healthy enough to continue labor on its own, or if a faster delivery with forceps or a cesarean section might be a better route to take.

During labor, a woman’s cervix, the opening of the uterus, thins and opens to let her baby pass through the vagina. In order to have fetal scalp blood sampling, the cervix must be dilated enough that the provider can reach the baby’s head.

The test may remind you of a pelvic exam. It takes about 5 minutes. The woman lies on her back with her feet in stirrups. The provider places a plastic cone in the vagina that fits up against the baby’s head. The provider pricks the baby’s scalp and takes a small amount of blood. The blood is tested, and results are ready in just a few minutes.

If mom has an infection, like HIV or hepatitis C, her provider may not recommend fetal blood sampling. This is because she can pass these infections to her baby through the spot where his scalp is pricked.

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2 Responses to “Fetal scalp pH testing”

  1. Kallie S. Says:

    Why would this be necessary? Babies are designed to be born (handle the stress of labor) and mother’s bodies are designed to give birth. This just sounds like one more unnecessary intervention to increase the cesarean rate.

  2. Lindsay Says:

    Hi Kallie – Good question. Although the test is not uncommon, most deliveries do not involve fetal scalp pH testing. It’s mostly used only when they feel there may be fetal distress for some reason, such as when the fetal heart rate pattern is not regular, there is a known birth defect, etc. Prolonged oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage.

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