Fetal Scalp Stimulation Versus Fetal Blood Sampling in Labour (FIRSST)

  • End date
    Dec 31, 2024
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Dublin, Trinity College
Updated on 4 October 2022


Pregnant women have routine monitoring of the baby's heart rate when in labour. Women with complicated pregnancies require continuous monitoring using an electronic recorder called a CTG. The CTG produces a paper based recording which is interpreted by the midwife as showing normal, suspicious or abnormal features of the baby's heart rate. Babies quite commonly demonstrate abnormal features from time to time during the course of labour. In some cases the abnormal features are of sufficient concern to warrant delivery by emergency caesarean section. In most of these cases the baby is born in good condition and the question arises whether the caesarean section was unnecessary. In order to reduce the chance of an unnecessary caesarean section additional "second-line" tests can be offered. One such test is where a small drop of blood is taken from the baby's scalp. This test involves an internal examination with an instrument to visualise the baby's head and a small scratch to the baby's scalp. The blood is tested for acid which is an indicator of whether or not the baby is receiving enough oxygen. The test is called a fetal blood sample or FBS. An alternative test is where the doctor or midwife performs a vaginal examination with two fingers and gently rubs the baby's scalp in an attempt to cause an increase in the baby's heart rate. This is a healthy response suggesting that the baby is receiving enough oxygen. The test is called digital fetal scalp stimulation or dFSS. These two "second-line" tests have never been compared in a properly conducted head-to-head comparison. This study aims to compare dFSS and FBS in a large clinical trial completed within four of Ireland's largest maternity hospitals. This trial will generate important evidence of direct relevance to clinical care and patient outcomes.


Continuous electronic fetal heart rate recording with cardiotocography (CTG) is a standard approach to monitoring fetal wellbeing in labour and is recommended for high-risk pregnancies. The aim is to identify fetal compromise early and intervene in order to reduce serious adverse events such as cerebral palsy and perinatal death. CTG abnormalities are relatively common and can lead to the decision to deliver by emergency caesarean section. In most cases the fetus is subsequently found to have been compensating for the stress of labour and is not actually compromised. Fetal blood sampling (FBS) is a second-line invasive test that provides information on the acid-base status of the fetus, reflecting hypoxia. It is used to provide either reassurance that labour can continue, or more objective evidence that delivery needs to be expedited. Clinical guidelines in the United Kingdom and Ireland have treated FBS as a gold standard test. Recent studies have questioned the validity and reliability of FBS, and also the logistic challenges of achieving a result in a timely manner. Fetal scalp stimulation (dFSS) by digital rubbing is an alternative less invasive test of fetal wellbeing in labour and is recommended in preference to FBS in US guidelines. This research aims to compare digital FSS and FBS in women with term singleton pregnancies and an abnormal intrapartum CTG, where additional information on fetal wellbeing is required. A multi-centre randomised controlled trial will be conducted. The clinical outcomes of interest will include caesarean section, assisted vaginal birth, low Apgar scores, cord blood acidosis, and admission to the neonatal unit. This trial will generate important evidence of direct relevance to clinical care and patient outcomes.

Condition Intrapartum Fetal Distress
Treatment Fetal Blood Sampling (FBS), digital Fetal Scalp Stimulation (dFSS)
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT05306756
SponsorUniversity of Dublin, Trinity College
Last Modified on4 October 2022


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Nulliparous women
Singleton pregnancy
Cephalic presentation
Gestational age 37+0 weeks or greater
Abnormal CTG that requires second-line testing (FBS or dFSS)

Exclusion Criteria

Contraindication to FBS
Limited understanding of English
At the discretion of the responsible obstetrician in cases where there is urgency
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