Fetal distress is a term generally used to describe hypoxia, or lack of oxygen getting to the baby. Before or during childbirth, any sign of fetal distress alerts the obstetrician, nurse midwife or doctor that the baby might not be doing well or is becoming tired or stressed during labor. If fetal distress is not diagnosed and promptly treated, it could lead to permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy or a still born birth.
During birth, some fetal distress is normal as the baby passes thru the birth canal and it does not mean that there will be any long term neurologic problems with your baby. It is prolonged fetal distress that your obstetrician or nurse midwife should be looking for or respond to before permanent brain damage occurs.
The only way your baby is able to communicate to your doctor or midwife that labor may be too stressful or if he or she is in distress is by the electronic fetal monitor strips (FMS) that constantly watch your baby's heart rate and well being. Unreassuring fetal monitor strips that show decelerations in the heart rate, tachycardia (fast heart rate), bradycardia (low heart rate) or a loss of variability may require the following treatments:
- Administer oxygen to the mother
- Turn the mother onto her left side
- Give Intravenous (IV) fluids if potentially dehydrated
- Perform a vaginal exam to check for a prolapsed cord or vaginal bleeding
- Alert the neonatal intensive care (NICU) that there may be a problem with the baby
Changes in your baby's heart rate or fetal distress can be caused by:
- Umbilical cord wrapped around the baby's neck or nucal cord
- Prolapsed umbilical cord or cord that comes out before the baby's head
- Hyperstimulation of the uterus due to Pitocin or placental abruption
- Uterus not resting in between contractions
- Uterine rupture
- Infections such as Group B strep (GBS)
- Shoulder dystocia
- Prolonged labor
- Prolonged rupture of membranes or amniotic sac
- Breech birth
If the cause of fetal distress in your baby is not identified or treated right away, it could lead to a lack of oxygen to your baby's brain or permanent brain damage that can later cause developmental delays, mental retardation, seizures, or Cerebral Palsy (CP).
If you had a difficult labor or felt that something just wasn't right with your baby after delivery, it could have been caused by prolonged fetal distress during labor. Since 1958, the Beasley Firm has successfully litigated pregnancy and birth injury cases, recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation for children who need lifelong care and who have high medical expenses. In addition to our experienced attorneys, we also have on staff two physicians and three registered nurses, two of them that are experienced neonatal intensive care (NICU) and labor and delivery (L & D) nurses. Our collective knowledge assisted in obtaining two of the largest medical negligence verdicts inPennsylvania history, $100 million and $55 million, and the largest punitive damage award against a physician in Pennsylvania, $15 million, as well as hundreds of other multimillion dollar judgments and settlements.