Fetal pulse oximetry (FPO) has evolved through various phases of technical development and calibration. Clinical studies have addressed the issue of determining threshold action values and how well the technology is accepted by childbearing women and their caregivers. This article considers a variety of situations and factors that commonly occur during labor and that may influence fetal oximetry values. These include uterine contractions, supplemental oxygen and intravenous fluids administered to the mother, maternal position and epidural analgesia. The five randomized, controlled trials that compared the use of FPO in addition to fetal heart-rate monitoring with fetal heart-rate monitoring alone, have been systematically reviewed and subjected to meta-analysis where appropriate. Current clinical practice guidelines do not support the routine use of FPO; however, the recent emergence of robust multiwavelength oximeters may, in the future, offer further clinical applications for FPO.