AJOG: Fetal head descent assessed by transabdominal ultrasound: a prospective observational study



Determining fetal head descent, expressed as fetal head station and engagement is an essential part of monitoring progression in labor. Assessing fetal head station is based on the distal part of the fetal skull, whereas assessing engagement is based on the proximal part. Prerequisites for assisted vaginal birth are that the fetal head should be engaged and its lowermost part at or below the level of the ischial spines. The part of the fetal head above the pelvic inlet reflects the true descent of the largest diameter of the skull. In molded (reshaped) fetal heads, the leading bony part of the skull may be below the ischial spines while the largest diameter of the fetal skull still remains above the pelvic inlet. An attempt at assisted vaginal birth in such a situation would be associated with risks. Therefore, the vaginal or transperineal assessments of station should be supplemented with a transabdominal examination. We suggest a method for the assessment of fetal head descent with transabdominal ultrasound.


To investigate the correlation between transabdominal and transperineal assessment of fetal head descent, and to study fetal head shape at different labor stages and head positions.

Study Design

Women with term singleton cephalic pregnancies admitted to the labor ward for induction of labor or in spontaneous labor, at the Cairo University Hospital and Oslo University Hospital from December 2019 to December 2020 were included. Fetal head descent was assessed with transabdominal ultrasound as the suprapubic descent angle between a longitudinal line through the symphysis pubis and a line from the upper part of the symphysis pubis extending tangentially to the fetal skull. We compared measurements with transperineally assessed angle of progression and investigated interobserver agreement. We also measured the part of fetal head above and below the symphysis pubis at different labor stages.


The study population comprised 123 women, of whom 19 (15%) were examined before induction of labor, 8 (7%) in the latent phase, 52 (42%) in the active first stage and 44 (36%) in the second stage. The suprapubic descent angle and the angle of progression could be measured in all cases. The correlation between the transabdominal and transperineal measurements was −0.90 (95% confidence interval, −0.86 to −0.93). Interobserver agreement was examined in 30 women and the intraclass correlation coefficient was 0.98 (95% confidence interval, 0.95–0.99). The limits of agreement were from −9.5 to 7.8 degrees. The fetal head was more elongated in occiput posterior position than in non-occiput posterior positions in the second stage of labor.


We present a novel method of examining fetal head descent by assessing the proximal part of the fetal skull with transabdominal ultrasound. The correlation with transperineal ultrasound measurements was strong, especially early in labor. The fetal head was elongated in the occiput posterior position during the second stage of labor.