The term “fetoscope” can be used to refer to two different medical devices, each of which is designed to provide information about a fetus and how well it is doing inside an expecting mother's uterus. In the first sense, a fetoscope is a type of stethoscope which has been customized for use in listening to the fetal heartbeat. The second sense refers to a type of endoscope utilized in fetoscopy, in which a doctor introduces a camera to the uterus to see the fetus.
In the sense of a type of stethoscope, a fetoscope is most commonly used by midwives. To use the fetoscope, the wearer inserts the ear pieces, places one end on the abdomen of the expecting mother, and cradles his or her forehead in the forehead rest. Once the fetoscope has been moved into the right position, the heartbeat should be audible, allowing the practitioner to determine whether or not the fetus is in good health.
Hospitals usually prefer to use techniques which can allow for hands-off continuous monitoring of pregnant women, rather than having practitioners use a fetoscope. The disadvantage of a fetoscope is that it is very difficult to use continually, and it takes practice to learn to use the device correctly. The advantages are that it is noninvasive, and it tends to allow the mother more freedom of movement, as the practitioner can use it when the mother is in any position.
The endoscopy tool used in fetoscopy is a long, flexible fiberoptic tube with an attached camera. The fetoscope can also be equipped with instruments which can be used to take samples from the fetus or the amniotic fluid. To use the device, the doctor makes a small incision in the abdomen of the woman, inserts the tube, and gathers the necessary data before withdrawing the fetoscope and sewing up the incision.
This device is used in situations where a woman's fetus may have birth defects which cannot be detected with the use of other methods. It can carry a very high risk of miscarriage, up to 12% in some cases, and is therefore only recommended when it is medically necessary. Women who go into the hospital for a fetoscopy should be aware that they will be asked to take muscle relaxants to encourage the fetus to remain calm during the procedure, and they may feel woozy when the fetoscopy is over. Rest is strongly recommended for two weeks following the procedure to reduce the risk of developing complications.