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Fetal Distress During Pregnancy and Labor

If a doctor fails to detect fetal distress and respond to it in time, it can lead to severe birth injuries or even death of your baby.

Fetal Distress During Pregnancy and Labor

Fetal distress is a condition in which the heartbeat of the fetus decelerates or becomes flat. It is also known as non-reassuring fetal heart tracing, and it can happen both during pregnancy and labor. Fetal distress is a sign of lack of oxygen to the fetus’ brain.

Classification of Heart Deceleration

Early deceleration: This is the most common type of heart deceleration, and is usually a sign of head compression

Variable deceleration: This happens during pushing stage of the labor, and is a sign of umbilical cord compression

Late decoration: The most serious of the three, because persistent late decoration could be a sign that the fetus is unwell

Common Causes of Fetal Distress

  • Breathing problems
  • Abnormal position and presentation of the fetus
  • Umbilical cord prolapse
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Placental abruption
  • Nuchal cord
  • Uterine rupture
  • Premature closure of the fetal ductus arteriosus

Mothers with history of intrauterine growth retardation, stillbirth, multiple pregnancy, hypertension, decreased fetal movements, diabetes, and post term pregnancy are at high risk of fetal distress.

Fetal Distress During Pregnancy

It is usually not easy to detect fetal distress during pregnancy. The mother should be watchful of the baby movements and report any changes to the doctor as the due date draws closer. In most cases, it is normal for the movement to reduce as the due date approaches, but any significant changes should be reported to the doctor so that they can perform some tests to monitor the health of the fetus. The doctor may ask the mother to keep a “kick count”, and if the doctor notices that the kick count is too low, he/she may order a non-stress test and an ultrasound. If the results are not positive, the doctor may decide to deliver the baby immediately.

Fetal Distress During Labor

During labor, the most common sign of fetal distress is detection of meconium or baby’s stool in the amniotic fluid. Also, the baby’s heart rate is intermittently monitored during labor using a hand-held Doppler ultrasound or a Pinard stethoscope. This is done during the first stage of labor, and also after every contraction or five minutes during the pushing stage. In some cases, the heartbeat is continuously monitored by attaching a fetal monitor to the mother’s stomach. There are two sensors, one monitors the contractions and other monitors fetus’ heartbeat.

If the doctors discover that the baby is in distress, they may increase mother’s fluid levels via drip, give her extra oxygen via a face mask, temporarily stop any medications that are being given to induce labor, or let the mother lie down on the left side. If the condition does not improve, the doctor’s may have to perform an emergency C-section.

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