What Is Fetal Distress?
When your labor and delivery are interrupted by a diagnosis of fetal distress, you are entitled to answers to the many questions you probably have. A diagnosis of fetal distress is made when your unborn son or daughter does not receive enough oxygen. Fetal distress can occur when your pregnancy lasts too long or when other pregnancy complications like rapid labor or difficult labor are present.
Doctors usually make a determination of fetal distress when they identify an abnormality in your unborn child’s heart rate pattern. As your labor progresses, your child’s heart rate will be continually monitored with electronic fetal heart monitoring or with a handheld Doppler ultrasound device. Fetal heart rate monitoring is usually conducted every 15 minutes during early labor and following each contraction during late labor.
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Treating Fetal Distress During Labor
If your doctor, nurse, or another member of your health care team detects a significant abnormality in your baby’s heart rate, it might be treated in one of the following ways:
- You might be given supplemental oxygen
- Your amount of intravenous fluid might be increased
- You might be turned onto one side or the other
- You might be prescribed analgesics
In addition to the above medical options, your doctor might take additional measures to treat a case of fetal distress. If oxytocin was used to stimulate your contractions, it will be discontinued immediately. If your labor was not medically stimulated, you might be given medication to slow or stop your contractions. If none of these measures effectively resolve fetal distress, your doctor might choose to use forceps or perform a C-section to deliver your infant as quickly as possible.
Using Forceps to Complete Delivery of Your Newborn
Medical forceps are an instrument shaped like a large pair of spoons or a large pair of salad tongs. They are applied to your unborn baby’s head to help guide him through your birth canal. Forceps are typically applied while you simultaneously push during a contraction. Your OBGYN or other health care professional may recommend a forceps delivery if:
- Your labor is not progressing
- You have heart disease or high blood pressure
- Your unborn child’s heartbeat appears problematic
- Your baby’s safety depends on an immediate delivery
The health and safety of you and your unborn baby are important. If a forceps delivery fails, your doctor may proceed with a C-section delivery.
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When an Emergency C-Section Is Warranted
The surgical procedure used to deliver your unborn child through incisions in your abdomen and uterus is called a C-section. A C-section is often scheduled in advance if you develop pregnancy complications or if you have had a previous C-section and do not want to undergo a vaginal birth after cesarean.
In other cases, a C-section is not planned in advance because the need for it does not become apparent until your labor is already in progress. Some situations where a C-section might prove to be a safer method of delivery for you and your unborn child include:
- Stalled Labor – when your cervix fails to open enough despite the presence of strong contraction for many hours
- Placenta Previa – when your placenta is covering the opening of your cervix
- Multiple Babies – when you are carrying twins or triplets and the first baby is in an abnormal birth presentation
- Fetal distress – when your doctor finds cause for concern in changes to your baby’s heart rate
If your doctor detects any of these conditions, he may suggest a C-section to deliver your baby quickly and safely.
Risks Involved in a C-Section Delivery
Although your doctor may recommend a C-section delivery if your unborn son or daughter shows signs of fetal distress, a C-section can have certain risks of its own. Risks to your infant include breathing problems and potential surgical injuries. Risks to you include:
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Adverse reactions to anesthesia
- Blood clots
- Surgical injuries
An unexpected C-section can be a daunting experience. When it leads to additional complications and injuries, it can increase the length and expense of your hospital stay. If you suffer from any of these C-section-related complications, speak to an attorney immediately.
Speak to a Fetal Distress Attorney Today
Did your unborn child show signs of fetal distress? Are they continuing to experience the effects of fetal distress and lack of oxygen during labor and delivery? If a diagnosis of fetal distress led to trying labor and delivery, and traumatic birth experience, you may need the help of a birth injury attorney.
A birth injury attorney can be your biggest advocate if your child endures fetal distress or if it led to additional complications in the aftermath of your labor and delivery. Contact the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529 to discuss the details of your potential case with an attorney near you.
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What Are The Types Of Fetal Distress?
Fetal distress happens when your unborn child does not receive enough oxygen. During your labor, members of your medical team might observe three different clinical patterns of acute fetal distress. The three types of fetal distress that might be observed include:
- Your baby’s heart rate is fixed and steady and doesn’t change even when he is stimulated
- Your baby’s heart rate rises too high
- Your baby’s heart rate is too low and stays low until he is safely delivered
When your doctor diagnoses fetal distress, she should confirm its presence with continuous heart rate monitoring or a fetal scalp sampling to determine how much oxygen is in your baby’s blood.
If the newborn has an Apgar score lower than three points for more than five minutes, it is typically a sign that the fetal distress may have caused brain damage. If acute enough, it could lead to death.
Understanding Your Newborn’s Apgar Score
An Apgar test is done as soon as your baby is born, and again, five minutes later. The first one gives doctors and nurses a general idea of how your baby’s system dealt with labor and delivery. The second one tells them how well your baby is adjusting to his new environment outside the protection of your body.
While administering an Apgar test, your doctor, nurse, or midwife examines your newborn’s breathing effort, heart rate, muscle tone, reflexes, and skin color.
- Breathing Effort: Not breathing (zero points), slow or irregular breathing (one point), crying vigorously (two points)
- Heart Rate: No heartbeat (zero points), fewer than 100 beats per minute (one point), greater than 100 beats per minute (two points)
- Muscle Tone: Loose, floppy muscles (zero points), some muscle tone (one point), active motion (two points)
- Reflexes: No reaction (zero points), grimacing (one point), grimacing with coughing, sneezing, or vigorous crying (two points)
- Skin Color: Pale blue (zero points), pink skin with blue extremities (one point), entire pink body (two points)
An Apgar test is a routine examination that is performed to help health care providers determine whether your newborn needs help to breathe or is experiencing other heart trouble.
Common Causes of Fetal Distress
Fetal distress can have a variety of causes. Along with identifying the type of fetal distress your child is enduring, your doctor may be able to help you understand the underlying cause of your baby’s case of fetal distress. Possible causes of fetal distress include:
- Postmaturity– a pregnancy that lasts too long
- Pregnancy complications like rapid labor
- Contractions that are too strong
- Contractions that are too close together
In most cases, monitors will signal that your baby is in fetal distress by showing a change in his heart rate. Throughout your labor and delivery, your unborn child’s fetal heart rate will be closely monitored. Your OBGYN or other medical professionals can help you understand its causes and contributing factors.
Identifying Postmaturity and Its Causes
An overdue pregnancy can cause you much worry and discomfort. Your original due date is calculated based on when your pregnancy will reach the forty-week mark. As uncomfortable as it might be, your pregnancy must extend two weeks past your anticipated due date before it is considered overdue or postmature. You are more likely to experience a postmature pregnancy under the following circumstances:
- If this is your first pregnancy
- Your expected newborn is a boy
- If a previous pregnancy was overdue
- You experience problems with your placenta
Research indicates that overdue pregnancies might put your unborn child at risk of having a significantly larger than average birth weight or of having his shoulder lodged behind your pelvic bone during delivery, a condition called shoulder dystocia.
Your newborn might also experience a post-birth condition known as postmaturity syndrome. Postmaturity syndrome is a condition characterized by a lack of body fat, so your newborn might not have the typical plump baby look, and he might also have had his first bowel movement while still in your womb.
Get the Legal Help Your Newborn Deserves
When fetal distress puts both you and your medical team on high alert. Your medical team can help you understand the cause of your child’s diagnosis of fetal distress. They can also help you understand the types of fetal distress and which one affected your son or daughter.
When you are ready to hold the right people responsible for your child’s condition during labor, delivery, and birth, or his current medical condition, you need the help of a lawyer. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529 to schedule a no-cost, no-obligation review of your case with a lawyer in your state today.
How Can Fetal Distress Be Mitigated?
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that fetal distress is the second most common complication among all deliveries. The earliest indication of fetal distress is usually an abnormal fetal heart rate. At the first sign of this indication, your OBGYN or other health care professionals should take immediate steps so that fetal distress can be mitigated. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some of the ways fetal distress can be mitigated as you continue to labor include:
- Administering supplemental amounts of oxygen
- Increasing amounts of intravenous fluid
- Repositioning onto your left or right side
Your medical team may also issue you drugs or stop them immediately.
If none of these measures help mitigate your case of fetal distress, your medical team might opt to employ an alternate delivery method to ensure your baby is delivered as quickly as possible. Alternate methods of delivery can include delivering your baby by vacuum extraction, forceps, or C-section.
Alternate Delivery Methods
When your baby is delivered by vacuum extraction, the device is attached to your baby’s head to direct him through your birth canal.
A vacuum extraction might be employed if monitoring of your baby suggests changes in his heartbeat or if your health care provider is concerned about a problem. Potential risks of a vacuum extraction for your baby include scalp wounds, shoulder dystocia, and skull fractures.
When your baby is delivered using forceps, the device is applied to your baby’s head to help him navigate through your birth canal. A forceps delivery might be used if labor fails to progress with pushing or if changes in your unborn child’s heart rate indicate a problem. Delivery using forceps might cause your child to sustain facial injuries, facial paralysis, eye trauma, or skull fractures.
Emergency C-Section Delivery
Your doctor may deem a C-section safer for you and your baby than a vaginal delivery. Your health care providers might recommend a C-section if your labor stalls or there is a concern that your baby’s heartbeat indicates fetal distress.
A Birth Injury Lawyer Can Help You Prove Your Case
The injuries your baby may suffer due to fetal distress can be severe, and in some cases, life-threatening. If your baby suffered injuries due to your medical team’s failure to mitigate fetal distress, you may be entitled to compensation.
Your child deserves the best available medical care, and you deserve to be able to provide it. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today at (800) 222-9529 for a free consultation. Our team can help you determine whether you might be eligible to file a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit. Be sure to act quickly. Each state has its own statute of limitations that determines how long you have to take legal action. If you fail to act within this time limit, you may forfeit your right to recover compensation.