What is fetal distress ?


Fetal distress is when the fetus starts to show signs of being unwell as  a result of not receiving adequate amount of oxygen. It is usually detected through an abnormal heart beat rate. Your baby may become distress during pregnancy or labor.
fetal distress

What causes fetal distress ?


Fetal distress may be due to a wide range of reasons , some of which include the following :

  • Oligohydraminos — low amniotic fluid around the baby
  • anemia
  • intrauterine growth restriction IUGR
  • having chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes
  • pregnancy that is past the due date (42 weeks or more )
  • meconium stained amniotic fluid
  • carrying multiples
  • over stimulation of the uterus due to labor induction
  • a sharp drop in the mother’s blood pressure due to lying  flat on her back for long periods of times during labor, receiving epidural or experiencing hemorrhage


How is fetal distress diagnosed ?


Throughout pregnancy and during labor, the heart beat of the fetus is monitored for signs of any complications. The method usually used is  an electronic fetal heart rate (FHR) monitoring. They may also use a handheld Doppler ultrasound device that is used to check the heart rate every 15 minutes during early labor and after each contraction during late labor.This can detect any abnormalities in the fetal heart rate. The health care provider analyzes the pattern of fetal heart rate for any inconsistencies. Changes in the baby’s heart rate  could be a sign of distress.


Amniotic fluid that is stained with meconium ( baby’s first poop ) after it is raptured could mean your baby is in distress even though that is usually not the case.  Sometimes the baby inhales the amniotic fluid during labor or delivery causing them to have shortness of breath after delivery.


What is the treatment for fetal distress ?


Fetal distress may be treated with intrauterine resuscitation. Some means of intrauterine resuscitation include :


  • giving the mother fluid intravenously
  • given the woman oxygen
  • changing the position of the woman by turning her towards her left side
  • amnioinfusion which is the insertion of fluid into the amniotic cavity to alleviate compression of the umbilical cord
  • tocolysis which is a therapy used to delay preterm labor by temporarily stopping contractions

If all these measures don’t work, the baby is quickly delivered using  vacuum extractor or though an emergency c – section.

Content Sources

Fetal distress. American Pregnancy Association . http://americanpregnancy.org/labor-and-birth/fetal-distress/. Accessed October 14 , 2014
About foetal distress.Birth. http://www.birth.com.au/foetal-distress/about-foetal-distress?view=full#.VD9k1SPD91s . Accessed October 14, 2014

Fetal distress. The Merck Manual Home Edition. Accessed October 14, 2014


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