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Fetal Distress

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Fetal distress is the term used when the baby is compromised in labor or during delivery. It is a medical condition which generally refers to “hypoxia”, or low levels of oxygen in the baby. It’s possible to occur before labor, but more commonly occurs during the delivery process. Oxygen deprivation can result in decreased fetal heart rate and requires immediate action to protect your baby.

While pregnancy can be a joyous time in a woman’s life, not all pregnancies are the same, and some women may have a healthier journey than others. Among the common problems that can occur throughout pregnancy, delivery, and after, is fetal distress.  

Learn about common problems throughout pregnancy, delivery and after.

What Causes Fetal Distress?

Fetal distress may be caused by several factors, including:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Placental abruption
  • Too much or low levels of amniotic fluid
  • Labor complications
  • Umbilical cord prolapse
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • An overdue pregnancy
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Anemia

What are the Signs?

Sometimes, mothers notice signs of fetal distress on their own. These symptoms include:

  • Decreased movement in the womb
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Inadequate weight gain

Fetal distress is diagnosed based on fetal heart rate monitoring, which is monitored throughout pregnancy and taken at every prenatal appointment. The fetal heart rate should be between 110 and 160 beats per minute during the third trimester of pregnancy and labor.

Heart rate abnormalities that are signs of fetal distress:

  • Bradycardia- An abnormally slow heart rate
  • Tachycardia- An abnormally fast heart rate
  • Variable decelerations- Abrupt decreases in heart rate
  • Late decelerations- Lat returns to the baseline heart rate after a contraction

Help for Fetal Distress

Your doctor must closely monitor all pregnancies — especially high-risk pregnancies — and continuously assess the health of the mother and baby. If your doctor recognizes or is alerted to signs of fetal distress, they will monitor the baby and decide the safest way to proceed. If there are signs of fetal distress on the fetal heart rate monitoring, the main goal is to return the baby to an oxygen-rich state as soon as possible. In some cases, the best way to alleviate fetal distress is to remove the baby from an oxygen-deprived environment and deliver. A C-section delivery may be the safest way for this to occur.

Lasting Effects of Fetal Distress

Babies who experience fetal distress are at a greater risk of complications after birth. Lack of oxygen during birth can lead to very serious complications for the baby, including brain injury, cerebral palsy and even stillbirth.

Can I Prevent Fetal Distress?

While you can’t prevent fetal distress, your odds of it occurring are lower if you are going to all your prenatal appointments and following your doctor’s recommendation for a healthy pregnancy. Monitoring is the key to identifying fetal distress, treating it before it leads to irreversible complications, and preventing it in the first place. If you have been diagnosed with a condition that increases your risk of fetal distress, like gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, it is especially important to remain closely monitored.

Many women don’t necessarily notice when a baby is in fetal distress, so an increasing number of prenatal appointments towards the end of your pregnancy allow your doctor to monitor your baby’s heart rate. If you’ve noticed a change in fetal activity or your kick count is off and you’re concerned, call us right away.

Our Board-Certified OB/GYNs are Here For You

Fetal distress can be a scary medical condition and maintaining an open dialog with your OB/GYN throughout your pregnancy can help alleviate some of your fears. Don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns regarding fetal distress or any other pregnancy-related condition. A trained staff member will be happy to answer any questions or schedule a consult.

Call us today at 770.720.7733 or request an appointment online.