BACKGROUND: Nonreassuring fetal status detected by continuous electronic fetal monitoring accounts for almost 1 in 4 primary cesarean deliveries. However, given the subjective nature of the diagnosis, there is a need to identify the electronic fetal monitoring patterns that are clinically considered nonreassuring. OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to describe which electronic fetal monitoring features are most commonly associated with first-stage cesarean delivery for nonreassuring fetal status, and to evaluate the risk of neonatal acidemia following cesarean delivery for nonreassuring fetal status. STUDY DESIGN: This was a nested case–control study in a prospectively collected cohort of patients with singleton pregnancies at ≥37 weeks’ gestation, admitted in spontaneous labor or for induction of labor from 2010 to 2014 at a single tertiary care center. Patients with preterm pregnancies, multiple gestations, planned cesarean delivery, or nonreassuring fetal status in the second stage of labor were excluded. Cases were identified as having nonreassuring fetal status on the basis of what was documented in the operative note by the delivering physician. Controls were patients without nonreassuring fetal status within 1 hour of delivery. Cases were matched to controls in a 1:2 ratio by parity, obesity, and history of cesarean delivery. Electronic fetal monitoring data were abstracted by credentialed obstetrical research nurses for the 60 minutes before delivery. The primary exposure of interest was the incidence of high-risk category II electronic fetal monitoring features in the 60 minutes before delivery; in particular, the incidence of minimal variability, recurrent late decelerations, recurrent variable decelerations, tachycardia, and >1 prolonged deceleration were compared between groups. We also compared neonatal outcomes between cases and controls, including fetal acidemia (umbilical artery pH <7.1), other umbilical artery gas analytes, and neonatal and maternal outcomes. RESULTS: Of the 8580 patients in the parent study, 714 (8.3%) underwent cesarean delivery for nonreassuring fetal status in the first stage of labor. Patients diagnosed with nonreassuring fetal status requiring cesarean delivery were more likely to have recurrent late decelerations, >1 prolonged deceleration, and recurrent variable decelerations compared with controls. More than 1 prolonged deceleration was associated with 6 times increased rate of nonreassuring fetal status diagnosis resulting in cesarean delivery (adjusted odds ratio, 6.73 [95% confidence interval, 2.47–8.33]). Rates of fetal tachycardia were similar between groups. Minimal variability was less common in the nonreassuring fetal status group compared with controls (adjusted odds ratio, 0.36 [95% confidence interval, 0.25–0.54]). Compared with control deliveries, cesarean delivery for nonreassuring fetal status was associated with nearly 7 times higher risk of neonatal acidemia (7.2% vs 1.1%; adjusted odds ratio, 6.93 [95% confidence interval, 3.83–12.54]). Composite neonatal morbidity and composite maternal morbidity were more likely among patients delivered for nonreassuring fetal status in the first stage (3.9% vs 1.1%; adjusted odds ratio, 5.70 [2.60–12.49]; and 13.3% vs 8.0%; adjusted odds ratio, 1.99 [1.41–2.80]). CONCLUSION: Although multiple category II electronic fetal monitoring features have been traditionally linked to acidemia, the presence of recurrent late decelerations, recurrent variable decelerations, and prolonged decelerations seemed to concern obstetricians enough to surgically intervene for nonreassuring fetal status. A clinical intrapartum diagnosis of nonreassuring fetal status in the setting of these electronic fetal monitoring features is also associated with increased risk of acidemia, suggesting clinical validity to the diagnosis of nonreassuring fetal status.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101068
JournalAmerican journal of obstetrics & gynecology MFM
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2023


  • category II
  • cesarean delivery
  • electronic fetal monitoring
  • neonatal acidemia
  • nonreassuring fetal status


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