Fetal Distress

Nationwide Cerebral Palsy Resource Network

While most births in the United States are successful and without incident, some end up with complications that can cause serious and sometimes life threatening injuries to your unborn child. One complication that frequently occurs is known as fetal distress, or hypoxia.

During pregnancy, labor and delivery, it is important that your team of obstetric specialists have the training and experience to address the potential for fetal distress. If your baby suffered distress and medical personnel failed to react appropriately, you might be entitled to recover significant compensation on your child's behalf. Please call (800)462-5772 to contact Stern Law, PLLC for free today.

What is fetal distress?

When your child is in fetal distress, his or her oxygen supply is compromised in utero or during the labor and delivery process. Fetal distress is caused by a wide variety of factors and may range from minor to severe, depending upon the circumstances.

The following is a comprehensive list of some of the major contributing conditions and factors that lead to fetal distress in unborn children:

  • Hypertensive disorder of pregnancy;
  • Maternal anemia;
  • Cervical deficiencies or abnormalities, including incompetent cervix;
  • Prolonged labor;
  • Premature labor;
  • Sepsis or infection;
  • Vaginal birth after cesarean;
  • Exposure to toxic substances;
  • Smoking during pregnancy;
  • Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy;
  • Lack of prenatal care;
  • Gestational diabetes;
  • Post-term pregnancy;
  • Medically induced labor;
  • Decreased maternal blood volume, or hypovolemia, due to blood loss or body fluid loss through vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Shortage of oxygen, or maternal hypoxia, due to maternal heart or lung disease, or living in a very high altitude;
  • Placenta previa;
  • Utero-placental insufficiencies;
  • Uterine infection;
  • Maternal illness, including viral or bacterial conditions;
  • Abnormal position and presentation of the fetus;
  • Multiple births;
  • Overly large fetus;
  • Advanced maternal age;
  • Rapid labor contractions;
  • Shoulder dystocia, a situation where your child’s shoulders are too large to pass through the birth canal;
  • Umbilical cord compression due to prolapse;
  • Umbilical cord compression due to entanglement around your baby’s neck;
  • An umbilical cord that becomes compressed against the uterine wall by your baby’s body;
  • Nuchal cord, a condition where the umbilical cord becomes wrapped around your baby’s neck at 360 degrees;
  • Placental abruption, a separation of the lining of the placenta from the uterus;
  • Premature closure of the fetal ductus arteriosus, which is a blood vessel connecting the pulmonary artery to the aortic arch;
  • Uterine rupture;
  • Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, a liver disorder that occurs during pregnancy;
  • Obesity;
  • Significant or rapid weight gain during pregnancy.

What are the signs and symptoms of fetal distress?

While every woman experiences many different feelings and sensations during pregnancy, there are a number of telltale signs and symptoms which suggest that an unborn child may be in distress. These are as follows:

  • Fluctuations in the fetal heart rate -  The normal range of a fetal heart rate should be anywhere between 110 to 160 beats per minute. Although periodic fluctuations in a fetal heart rate are generally normal, sustained periods of an abnormal heart rate may demonstrate a more serious problem. When your unborn child is in distress, typically his or her heart rate will dramatically accelerate.  This is called tachycardia. Then, the heartbeat may rapidly decelerate to the point where it is nearly undetectable.  This is known as bradycardia;. 
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting - Spotting refers to very light bleeding during pregnancy or between menstrual periods. Some level of spotting during pregnancy may be normal and often occurs when a fetus implants to the uterus during the first trimester. On the other hand, bleeding refers to a much heavier blood flow, which could be indicative of a miscarriage or an underlying problem affecting the placenta;
  • Cramping -  Cramping may be a warning sign of an impending miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. It’s important that you speak with your physician in order to determine whether the cramping is normal or a symptom of something more serious;
  • Meconium -  A child who passes meconium could suffer from meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS), which arises when your child inhales with his or her first breaths a combination of meconium and amniotic fluid, causing a partial or complete blockage of their airways;
  • Lack of fetal movement -  If you notice a sustained period of little to no fetal movement, there could be a more serious problem at hand which should be brought to the attention of the treating obstetrician;
  • Lack of fetal growth -  Obstetricians and midwives measure fetal growth during a woman’s pregnancy for many very important reasons. The lack of fetal growth, while not always indicative of a serious problem, may demonstrate fetal distress and other potentially life threatening issues. It’s crucial that you consult with your medical practitioner if you are not gaining weight during your pregnancy.

Preventing fetal distress

Although there is no way to completely prevent every form of fetal distress, there are certain measures that can be taken by mothers and medical practitioners that reduce the likelihood of it from occurring, such as:

  • Eating right -  It goes without saying that making healthy eating choices during pregnancy can avoid many types of medical complications that can affect your unborn child. While it is important for you, during pregnancy, to consume highly nutritious foods to nourish yourself and your baby, you should certainly not overeat under the mistaken assumption that you should eat enough for two people. Making poor food choices can lead to rapid weight gain and other serious complications during pregnancy that can threaten the life of your unborn child;
  • Regularly seeing a doctor -  Regular prenatal care is often the best way to prevent fetal distress, as a doctor is able to monitor you during your pregnancy and make recommendations to avoid complications before they arise. Therefore, if your doctor notices that your blood sugar is elevated during your pregnancy, he or she can implement a special diet for her to follow so as to prevent injury to the unborn child;
  • Pre-scheduled Cesarean section -  If you are carrying twins, pre-scheduling a c-section before the labor process begins may prevent your babies from sustaining injury due to distress. For example, multiple births can cause undue pressure on the umbilical cord, resulting in a lack of oxygen supply to your unborn children. If you are carrying multiple babies and undergo a c-section before labor begins, this dramatically reduces the likelihood of complications that could arise if you go to labor at full term;
  • Fetal monitoring during labor and delivery -  Fetal monitoring is one of the primary ways in which fetal distress can be detected, prevented and addressed, should it arise. When a fetal heart monitor demonstrates a pattern of an abnormal heart rate, it allows for doctors to act quickly and to take those measures in certain circumstances which are necessary to avoid potential injury;
  • Avoid exposure to teratogens - Teratogens are toxins that can cause injury to your unborn child. In addition to avoiding alcohol, first-hand and second-hand cigarette smoke, it’s crucial for a pregnant woman to also avoid exposure to cleaning supplies, chemical substances, cat litter, nutritional supplements and certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs. You can avoid this complication by speaking regularly with your doctor before taking anything or exposing yourself to something that could harm your baby.

There are several methods that can be implemented by medical professionals to prevent and avoid injury to your unborn child.  If medical intervention is not sought out immediately or if a doctor fails to identify a situation in which an unborn child is experiencing fetal distress, the consequences can be serious, and even deadly. Please call Stern Law, PLLC at (800)462-5772 for a free review of the details of your case.