OBJECTIVE : A critical analysis of the United States randomized controlled trial of fetal pulse oximetry concluded that nonreassuring fetal heart rate patterns used for study entry may have been a marker for dystocia. We prospectively studied nulliparous women in labor whose progress was monitored with fetal pulse oximetry to examine the relationship between nonreassuring fetal heart rate patterns and operative delivery for dystocia. STUDY DESIGN : A prospective nonrandomized observational cohort study compared two distinct classes of nonreassuring fetal heart rate patterns (class I: intermittent, mildly nonreassuring; class II: persistent, progressive, and moderate to severely nonreassuring) among nulliparous patients with the use of fetal pulse oximetry to confirm fetal well-being. Definitions of dystocia included the cessation of labor progress in the first (3 hours) or second (2 hours) stage of labor, despite adequate uterine activity that was assessed with an intrauterine pressure catheter. Independent review confirmed the classification of nonreassuring fetal heart rate patterns and study entry criteria. RESULTS : Two hundred seventy-four patients met study criteria and had sufficient information for fetal heart rate tracing interpretation. Two hundred thirty-seven patients (86.5%) were class II, and 37 patients (13.5%) were class I. The two classes of patients were comparable in a variety of obstetric, demographic, and perinatal variables. Twelve percent of all patients were delivered for nonreassuring fetal status. Significantly more class II patients (22%) were delivered by cesarean for dystocia than were class I patients (8%). Higher doses and a longer number of hours of oxytocin were required among class II patients. Significantly more occiput posterior positions were noted among all patients who underwent cesarean delivery for dystocia compared with other modes of delivery. CONCLUSION : Significantly nonreassuring fetal heart rate patterns predict cesarean delivery for dystocia among nulliparous patients with normally oxygenated fetuses in a setting of a standardized labor management protocol. This confirms the observations in the randomized controlled trial of fetal pulse oximetry in the United States and may provide insight into the treatment of nonprogressive labor in contemporary practice.
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