Improving the interpretation of electronic fetal monitoring: the fetal reserve index

Mark I. Evans, David W. Britt, Shara M. Evans, Lawrence D. Devoe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Electronic fetal monitoring, particularly in the form of cardiotocography, forms the centerpiece of labor management. Initially successfully designed for stillbirth prevention, there was hope to also include prediction and prevention of fetal acidosis and its sequelae. With the routine use of electronic fetal monitoring, the cesarean delivery rate increased from <5% in the 1970s to >30% at present. Most at-risk cases produced healthy babies, resulting in part from considerable confusion as to the differences between diagnostic and screening tests. Electronic fetal monitoring is clearly a screening test. Multiple attempts have aimed at enhancing its ability to accurately distinguish babies at risk of in utero injury from those who are not and to do this in a timely manner so that appropriate intervention can be performed. Even key electronic fetal monitoring opinion leaders admit that this goal has yet to be achieved. Our group has developed a modified approach called the “Fetal Reserve Index” that contextualizes the findings of electronic fetal monitoring by formally including the presence of maternal, fetal, and obstetrical risk factors and increased uterine contraction frequencies and breaking up the tracing into 4 quantifiable components (heart rate, variability, decelerations, and accelerations). The result is a quantitative 8-point metric, with each variable being weighted equally in version 1.0. In multiple previously published refereed papers, we have shown that in head-to-head studies comparing the fetal reserve index with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ fetal heart rate categories, the fetal reserve index more accurately identifies babies born with cerebral palsy and could also reduce the rates of emergency cesarean delivery and vaginal operative deliveries. We found that the fetal reserve index scores and fetal pH and base excess actually begin to fall earlier in the first stage of labor than was commonly appreciated, and the fetal reserve index provides a good surrogate for pH and base excess values. Finally, the last fetal reserve index score before delivery combined with early analysis of neonatal heart rate and acid/base balance shows that the period of risk for neonatal neurologic impairment can continue for the first 30 minutes of life and requires much closer neonatal observation than is currently being done.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S1129-S1143
JournalAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2023


  • acidosis
  • augmented electronic fetal monitoring
  • base excess
  • cardiotocography
  • category system
  • cerebral palsy
  • electronic fetal monitoring
  • fetal reserve index
  • fetal scalp
  • keeping labor safe
  • pH
  • risk factors
  • sampling


Dive into the research topics of 'Improving the interpretation of electronic fetal monitoring: the fetal reserve index'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this