Fetal distress refers to a fetus' response to stress while the baby is in utero. Fetal distress is an alarming finding which physicians and nurses need to react to timely and properly. For litigation related reasons, sometimes hospitals and doctors use the term “non reassuring fetal status” interchangeably with fetal distress. Regardless, there can be many causes of fetal distress. Even an otherwise healthy pregnancy can result in fetal distress during labor and delivery, so it is essential that doctors closely monitor the mother's and baby's status during this time.
The most common causes of fetal distress are a restricted flow of oxygen or blood to the baby through the umbilical cord or placenta. This decrease in oxygen, known as hypoxia, causes alterations in the baby's heart rate which can be seen by the doctors and nurses on the fetal heart rate monitor allowing them to timely diagnose fetal distress.
Fetal Distress and Medical Malpractice In Maryland
Fetal distress is a serious condition that will quickly cause permanent damage to the baby if not alleviated at its first signs. Fetal distress is repairable, but if a doctor fails to detect or diagnose fetal distress or misdiagnose the cause of the fetal distress and fails to treat the cause, your baby could suffer serious lifelong injury. Your doctor should be able to detect signs of fetal distress even in high-risk pregnancies, and should be able to act quickly to reduce the risk of harm.
If you believe your child has suffered serious damages during labor and delivery from fetal distress due to your doctor's negligence, we can help you determine whether you have a case for medical malpractice, and help you understand your options and rights.
Detecting Fetal Distress To Avoid The Negative Effects
In the womb, a baby gets blood and oxygen from the mother's placenta and umbilical cord. If problems arise in either, like compression of the umbilical cord, doctors must act fast to ameliorate the problem.
Healthy babies have heartbeats between 100 and 160 beats per minute (bpm) and show healthy movement in the womb. Mothers are often the first to notice fetal distress if the baby suddenly decreases in activity and movement.
Common signs of fetal distress include:
- Decreased movement of the baby in the womb
- A fetal heart rate that is quicker of slower than the average 100 to 160 bpm
- A fetal heart rate pattern demonstrating drops (declarations) in the heart rate pattern
- A fetal heart rate that has minimal to no variability
- Difficult or prolonged labor
- Quick and frequent contractions
- Decreased fetal growth
- Discolored amniotic fluid, healthy amniotic fluid is clear and may be slightly pink, red, or yellow.
- Smaller than average weight of the baby
- Decreased oxygen levels in the fetus
- Unusual amounts of amniotic fluid
Eating right, exercising, and following your doctor's orders will help promote a healthy pregnancy, but often fetal distress is out of the mother's control, and the only solution lies in the hands of the professionally trained doctor or nurse.
What Your Doctor Should Do
Fetal distress does not always result in serious or permanent injuries for the baby. As long as the doctor remains vigilant in monitoring the health of the baby, fetal distress can be alleviated or treated, and the baby will remain healthy.
There are many steps your doctor should take to improve fetal distress. If fetal distress occurs in the late stages of pregnancy, your doctor may induce labor to speed a healthy delivery. Your doctor may also decide to deliver the baby through a C-section if the baby will not be able to handle a vaginal birth, or if fetal distress occurs during labor and the baby needs to be delivered as quick as possible.
Doctors might also increase the amount of oxygen to the mother through a face-mask, increase fluid levels through an intravenous drip, or turn the mother on her left side to reduce pressure on the vena cava, a major vein that control blood flow to the baby. It may also be in the baby's best interest to slow down the labor process, and doctors may use tocolysis therapy medications to delay delivery.
If the doctor suspects fetal distress she may use a fetal scalp electrode as well as a continuous electrical fetal monitor (EFM) and place sensors over the mother's abdomen to monitor the baby's heartbeats along with the mother's contractions. Doctors may also take a small blood sample from the baby.
High-risk Pregnancies and Fetal Distress
Though otherwise healthy pregnancies can result in fetal distress, high-risk pregnancies increase the chance of fetal distress for the baby. Common signs of high-risk pregnancies include:
- A mother who is over 35 or under 17, women show increased risks in pregnancies at young and advanced ages
- Multiple pregnancies, like carrying twins
- Prior C-section
- Prior placental abruption
- Losses of multiple pregnancies
- Having an incompetent cervix
- Previous high-risk pregnancy or fetal distress
- Preexisting medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, kidney problems, repertory issues, or infections
- Certain medications the mother may be taking, like lithium, valproic acid, or carbamazepine
- Complications during the pregnancy
In addition, if your doctor detects serious pregnancy conditions like pre-eclampsia, she should be on heightened alert and should be closely monitoring your baby's health.
Your doctor should be able to recognize and diagnose signs of a high-risk pregnancy and be ready to act to keep the baby healthy.
Serious Consequences of Fetal Distress
Failing to take action to alleviate fetal distress often result in serious injury for the baby. Some serious consequences of failing to recognize or treat fetal distress include:
- Hypoxia or reduced oxygen to the brain that can cause a variety of issues and varying levels of brain damage, including cerebral palsy, behavioral issues, autism, or other developmental delays
- Premature birth
- Organ damage
Dealing with serious consequences of a child injured because of a doctor or nurses failure to handle fetal distress can be difficult and overwhelming. If your doctor's negligence resulted in serious harm for your child because he or she failed to recognize the signs of fetal distress, or to treat appropriately, and this happened in Baltimore or elsewhere in Maryland, we can help you sort out what happened, who is responsible, and whether you are entitled to collect financial compensation from the doctors or hospital. We are experienced birth injury lawyers, and have collected record-setting medical malpractice verdicts. We know how to help you and your child, and we welcome the opportunity to take on the system for you and get you the compensation you deserve.