Fetal distress is a term used by medical professionals when a fetus is not receiving adequate oxygen. Because it is not the official term, however, it can apply to other situations – whether during labor or not. The term itself is rather ambiguous, but it is important that expectant mothers understand what fetal distress entails and how it could impact their baby.
Fetal distress and birth asphyxia are often confused for one another, but these two terms are not the same. Birth asphyxia only occurs when the baby is deprived of oxygen before, during and after labor. There are numerous causes for both of these conditions, including low oxygen levels in the mother’s blood or reduced blood flow in general from a compressed umbilical cord.
Diagnosing Fetal Distress
Physicians must monitor a fetus’ condition throughout pregnancy and look for any potential complications. One of the most widely used methods for monitoring the fetus is the electronic fetal heart rate monitor (FHR). FHRs allow physicians to diagnose hypoxia in the fetus, monitor the mother’s contractions, and monitor the fetus’ response to hypoxia. These monitors can also reduce some risk in high-risk pregnancy situations.
FHR have their own risks, too. Sometimes FHR results can be misinterpreted, leading to the use of emergency C-sections – often when unnecessary.
Common Conditions Associated with Fetal Distress
There are precursors that can lead to a higher risk of fetal distress, including:
- Lowered amniotic fluid levels around the baby,
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension,
- Post-term pregnancies – those that go beyond 42 weeks,
- Intrauterine growth retardation, and
- Meconium-stained amniotic fluid.
Treating Fetal Distress
There is not just one standard treatment for fetal distress; skilled physicians will know which treatment applies to their patient’s particular situation. At times, a physician can simply reposition the pregnant woman during labor – which alleviates pressure off the uterus – in order for the baby to receive enough oxygen. At other times, simply giving the mother oxygen can increase the baby’s’ own oxygen supply.
Even with treatment, there are instances where an emergency C-section will be necessary. However, due to overdiagnosis of fetal distress, many C-sections are unnecessary. More doctors are doing emergency C-sections out of caution and fear that, if they misinterpret the FHR results, they could be sued in court. Because of this fear, thousands of pregnant women are being subjected to C-section procedures.
In most cases, proper prenatal care and monitoring can resolve fetal distress issues, as well as the issue of C-sections being performed unnecessarily.
Was Your Infant Harmed from Fetal Distress?
Not all fetal distress cases lead to injury, but those that do are often devastating. If your infant was diagnosed with fetal distress or hypoxia during labor, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the medical malpractice team at Schwartzapfel® Lawyers P.C. today for a free consultation. You can schedule your appointment by callling 1-877-737-4806 or by filling out our online contact form with your questions.