Hearing that your baby is in fetal distress can make you feel stressed and anxious. Fetal distress means something is cutting your baby off from the oxygen he needs. Fetal distress is most likely to occur during pregnancy when:
- Your due date was more than two weeks before your labor started
- Your labor is unusually long, or you don’t have a break between contractions
As your medical team will explain to you, an abnormal heart rate in your unborn child is usually the first indication of fetal distress.
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How Fetal Distress Is Identified
The first sign of fetal distress is usually a change of heartbeat in your unborn child that shows up during monitoring. Your baby’s heartbeat will be checked during labor the same way it was monitored during your regular prenatal visits. Your doctor or nurse will press a handheld doppler against your belly to hear your baby’s heart. During labor, they might also use a different kind of belted doppler to get a constant reading.
How Fetal Distress Is Treated
If your baby’s heart rate suddenly rises or falls, doctors might take one of the following steps to help your baby’s heart cope with the strain of labor and delivery:
- Making sure you have enough oxygen
- Giving you fluids through an IV
- Changing your position
If your OBGYN helped your labor start with IV drugs, he will stop the medicine immediately. If your labor started on its own, your doctor might give you a different medicine to help your labor slow down or stop altogether.
If nothing else works and your baby is still in distress, your doctor will talk to you about using forceps to help your baby emerge quickly or about having an emergency C-section. These methods are usually used when your health or your baby’s life is in danger.
When Your Doctor Might Recommend Oxytocin
If your labor doesn’t start on its own, or if it needs help progressing, you might be given a hormone called oxytocin. It might also be prescribed after your baby is born to help your breastmilk come in and make nursing your new baby easier.
Oxytocin is available only by prescription and should only be used to start labor or continue labor when specific medical reasons or indications are present. If your medical team opts for oxytocin, you will receive it as either through an IV or as an injection.
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Undergoing a C-Section Delivery
During a C-section, your doctor will make two cuts, one to open your belly and one to open your uterus, and then carefully remove your baby. Your doctor might recommend a C-section under certain conditions including:
- Labor that fails to progress
- Your unborn baby is in distress
- Your baby is abnormally positioned
- Placenta previa is indicated
Your doctor may also recommend a C-section or other method of assisted delivery for other reasons. He will work with other members of your health care team to make the best medical decision for you and your baby.
Using Forceps During Delivery
If you have to have a forceps delivery, it means your doctor will help your baby through your birth canal. Forceps look like two large, crisscrossed spoons that doctors use to gently but firmly grasp your baby’s head and pull while you push to help the baby out. Doctors usually use this method when your baby needs to be born quickly but is stuck in the birth canal.
A forceps delivery might be needed if you are pushing but labor is not progressing, your baby’s heart rate indicates a potential problem, or if you have certain medical conditions like heart disease or high blood pressure.
Using a Vacuum Extractor During Delivery
Vacuum extraction is a medical procedure done during some cases of vaginal childbirth. During a vacuum-assisted delivery, a vacuum extractor, a cup with a handle and a vacuum pump that is applied to your baby’s head to help guide him through your birth canal. Vacuum extraction is typically done as you push.
Your doctor might choose to help your baby into the world this way if your labor stalls, your baby’s heart is showing signs of distress, or if your labor is unusually prolonged. This procedure should only be performed in an appropriate medical setting where a C-section can be performed if needed.
A Birth Injury Lawyer Can Help Ensure Your Child’s Future
Your baby’s heartbeat should be monitored throughout your labor and delivery. Fetal distress is most likely to occur during pregnancy when your unborn child is not getting enough oxygen.
If your child suffered from fetal distress and you believe a member of your medical team is responsible, speak to an attorney near you. Call the Birth Injury Lawyers Group at (800) 222-9529 to discuss your legal and financial options today.