Aim. The aim of this paper is to report the development and use of a tool to appraise guidelines for fetal heart rate monitoring and discuss the findings generated in the appraisal process. Background. Expert guidance on the appropriate method of monitoring the fetal heart in labour has been available for some time. However, practices not based on evidence were continuing routinely in the United Kingdom. Methods. We produced an 18-item tool for the appraisal of guidelines. Heads of Midwifery Services were asked to send the guideline currently in use. Twenty-four out of 28 responded, and sent 32 guidelines. Pairs of multidisciplinary reviewers appraised each guideline. Results. A prevalidated generic appraisal instrument was not found to be appropriate for intrapartum fetal monitoring guidelines. When using our own specifically-developed appraisal tool for assessing the quality of fetal monitoring guidelines, only 11 reviewer pairs showed 'good' or 'moderate' agreement in their scores. Conclusions. Generically-validated guidelines may not be sufficiently discriminatory for specialized areas of practice such as intrapartum fetal monitoring. © 2005 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.