During labor, uterine contractions can cause temporary oxygen deficiency for the fetus. In case of severe and prolonged oxygen deficiency this can lead to asphyxia. The currently used technique for detection of asphyxia, cardiotocography (CTG), suffers from a low specificity. Recent studies suggest that analysis of fetal heart rate variability (HRV) in addition to CTG can provide information on fetal distress. However, interpretation of fetal HRV during labor is difficult due to the influence of uterine contractions on fetal HRV. The aim of this study is therefore to investigate whether HRV features differ during contraction and rest periods, and whether these differences can improve the detection of asphyxia. To this end, a case-control study was performed, using 14 cases with asphyxia that were matched with 14 healthy fetuses. We did not find significant differences for individual HRV features when calculated over the fetal heart rate without separating contractions and rest periods (p > 0.30 for all HRV features). Separating contractions from rest periods did result in a significant difference. In particular the ratio between HRV features calculated during and outside contractions can improve discrimination between fetuses with and without asphyxia (p < 0.04 for three out of four ratio HRV features that were studied in this paper).
Warmerdam, G. J. J., Vullings, R., van Laar, J. O. E. H., van der Hout-van der Jagt, M. B., Bergmans, J. W. M., Schmitt, L., & Oei, S. G. (2016). Using uterine activity to improve fetal heart rate variability analysis for detection of asphyxia during labor. Physiological Measurement, 37(3), 387-400. https://doi.org/10.1088/0967-3334/37/3/387