Summary: In May 1995, in response to a decision of die Perinatal and Infant Mortality Committee of Western Australia, a survey of Western Australian hospitals was performed to ascertain what policies were in use for the monitoring of the fetal heart rate in labour and what proportion of these hospitals had access to electronic monitoring by cardiotocography. A response was received from 96% of the surveyed hospitals. More than half the births in this State (13,950 of 25,238) were monitored in labour using intermittent auscultation as the primary test; 7.5% of Western Australian births each year occurred in hospitals in which electronic monitoring was not available. Fewer than 50% of hospitals had written protocols describing the method of auscultation of the fetal heart during labour, the indications to contact a doctor or the management of fetal distress. The protocols which did exist displayed considerable variation in the recommended frequency of intermittent auscultation. The lack of standard practice in this field probably results from uncertainties in the literature. Intermittent auscultation has not been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation as a screening tool and guidelines documenting ideal auscultatory practices need to balance the precision of electronic monitoring and freedom from intervention. Based on this compromise and existing evidence, a protocol for intermittent auscultation in normal labour is proposed.