Skip to main content

Compact long-term recorder for the transabdominal foetal and maternal electrocardiogram


Foetal heart rate (FHR) monitoring is a proven means of assessing foetal health during the antenatal period. Currently, the only widely available instrumentation for producing these data is based on Doppler ultrasound, a technology that is unsuitable for long-term use. For nearly a century, it has been known that the foetal electrocardiogram (FECG) can be detected using electrodes placed on the maternal abdomen. Although these signals suggest an alternative means of FHR derivation, their use has been limited owing to problems of poor signal-to-noise ratio. However, the eminent suitability of the transabdominal FECG for long-term FHR monitoring has suggested that perseverance with the technique would be worthwhile. The paper describes the design, construction and use of a compact, long-term recorder of three channels of 24 h antenatal transabdominal data. Preliminary use of the recorder in around 400 short recording sessions demonstrates that FHR records of equivalent quality to those from Doppler ultrasound-based instruments can be extracted from such data. The success of FHR derivation is, on average, around 65% of the recording period from around 20 weeks gestation (although this figure is reduced from around 28–32 weeks, and the success rates exhibit a wide range when individual subjects are considered). These results demonstrate that the technique offers, not only a means of acquiring long-term FHR data that are problematic to obtain by other means, but also a more patient-friendly alternative to the Doppler ultrasound technique.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Azevedo, S. (1980): ‘Abdominal-lead foetal electrocardiographic R-wave enhancement for heart rate determination’,IEEE Trans.,BME-5, pp. 255–259

    Google Scholar 

  • Bassil, H. E., andDripps, J. H. (1989): ‘Real time processing of foetal phonocardiographic signals’,Clin. Phys. Physiol. Meas.,10, (Suppl. B), pp. 67–74

    Google Scholar 

  • Bolte, A. (1961): ‘Zur ableitung und bewertung fetaler herzaktionspotentiale bie schwangeren frauen’,Arch. Gynäkol.,194, pp. 594–610

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cicinelli, E., Bortone, A., andCarbonara, I. (1994): ‘Improved equipment for abdominal foetal electrocardiogram recording: description and clinical evaluation’,Int. J. Bio-Med. Comput., pp. 193–205

  • Crowe, J. A., Harrison, A., andHayes-Gill, B. R. (1995): ‘The feasibility of long-term foetal heart rate monitoring in the home environment using maternal abdominal electrodes’,Physiol. Meas.,16, pp. 195–202

    Google Scholar 

  • Crowe, J. A., Woolfson, M. S., Hayes-Gill, B. R., Peasgood, W., Mohd-Ali, M. A., Huang, Y., Herbert, J., Huang, X. B., Harrison, A., Gibson, N. M., Symonds, E. M., Reed, N., andMohajer, M. (1996): ‘Antenatal assessment using the FECG obtained via abdominal electrodes’,J. Perinat. Med.,24, pp. 43–53

    Google Scholar 

  • Dawes, G. S., Moulden, M., andRedman, C. W. G. (1990): ‘Limitations of antenatal foetal heart rate monitors’,Am. J. Obstet. Gynaecol.,162, pp. 170–173

    Google Scholar 

  • Devedeux, D., Marque, C., Mansour, S., Germain, G., andDuchêne, J. (1993): ‘Uterine electromyography: A critical review’,Am. J. Obstet. Gynaecol.,169, pp. 1636–1653

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, A., Crowe, J. A., Hayes-Gill, B. R., van Wijngaarden, W., Vanner, T., andJames, D. K. (1995): ‘Use of the electrohysterogram for uterine contraction monitoring during labour’. Proc. 3rd European Conference on Engineering and medicine, 30 April–3 May 1995, Florence, Italy, ISBN 88-85936-14-8, p. 90

  • Kantz, D. andSchreiber, T. (1998): ‘Human ECG: nonlinear determinstic versus stochastic aspects’,IEE Proc., Sci. Meas. Technol.,145, pp. 279–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kovács, F., andTörök, M. (1995): ‘An instrument using parallel filtering of acoustic signals to record foetal heart rate’,Biomed. Instr. Tech.,29, pp. 213–219

    Google Scholar 

  • Mohd-Ali, M. A. (1994): ‘Development of a portable foetal and maternal heart rate recorder’. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Morgenstern, J. (1996): ‘Cardiotocography. Thoughts about reestablishing its value’,Gynäkologe,29, pp. 12–21

    Google Scholar 

  • Oldenburg, J. T., andMacklin, M. (1977): ‘Changes in the conduction of the foetal electrocardiogram to the maternal abdominal surface during gestation’,Am. J. Obstet. Gynaecol.,129, pp. 424–433

    Google Scholar 

  • Oostendorp, T. F., van Oosterom, A., andJongsma, H. W. (1989): ‘Electrical properties of tissues involved in the conduction of the foetal ECG’,Med. Biol. Eng. Comput.,27, pp. 322–324

    Google Scholar 

  • Oosterom, A. (1986): ‘Spatial filtering of the foetal electrocardiogram’,J. Perinat. Med.,14, pp. 411–419

    Google Scholar 

  • Park, Y. C., Lee, K. Y., Youn, D. H., Kim, Y. K., andPark, S. H. (1992): ‘On detecting the presence of the foetal R-wave using the moving averaged magnitude difference algorithm’,IEEE Trans.,BME-39, pp. 868–871

    Google Scholar 

  • Patrick, J., Carmichael, L., Chess, L., andStaples, C. (1984): ‘Accelerations of the human foetal heart rate at 38 to 40 weeks' gestational age’,Am. J. Obstet. Gynaecol.,148, pp. 35–41

    Google Scholar 

  • Peters M. J., Stinstra, J. G., van der Broek, S. P. S., Huirne, J. A. F., Quartero, H. W. P., Brake, H. J. M., andRogalla, H. (1998): ‘On the toetal magnetocardiogram’,Bioelectrochem. Bioenerg.,47, pp. 273–281

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pieri, J.-F., Crowe, J. A., Hayes-Gill, B. R., Bhogal, K., andJames, D. K. (1999): ‘Foetal and maternal heart rate derivation from transabdominal ECG recording’. IEE Colloquium on Medical applications of signal processing, 6 October, 1999, Savoy Place, London, UK ISSN 0963-3308, ref. 1999/107, pp. 17/1–17/6

  • Pieri, J.-F. (2000): ‘Long-term foetal heart rate monitoring via the transabdominal foetal electrocardiogram’. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, UK

    Google Scholar 

  • Stinstra, J. G., andPeters, M. J. (1998): ‘The volume conductor may act as a temporal filter on the ECG and EEG’,Med. Biol. Eng. Comp.,36, pp. 711–716

    Google Scholar 

  • van Bemmel, J. H. (1968): ‘Detection of weak foetal ECG's by autocorrelation and crosscorrelation of envelopes’,IEEE Trans.,BME-15, pp. 17–23

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. A. Crowe.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Piéri, J.F., Crowe, J.A., Hayes-Gill, B.R. et al. Compact long-term recorder for the transabdominal foetal and maternal electrocardiogram. Med. Biol. Eng. Comput. 39, 118–125 (2001).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Foetal monitoring
  • Antenatal
  • Foetal electrocardiogram
  • Foetal heart rate
  • Maternal heart rate
  • Electrophysiological recorder