Fetal distress is a term used to describe any situation that results in negative impacts on fetal health status. Fetal distress can be evaluated by the mother as a decrease in felt fetal movements. If a mother’s “water has broke,” and the fluid is stained brown or greenish with meconium (fetal bowel movement) this is considered a sign of possible fetal distress, even though fetuses can pass meconium without any negative impacts affecting their health. The fetal heart rate is probably the best indicator of whether or not fetal distress is present. A heart rate that is too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia) can indicate that interventions for the well-being of the fetus need to be made. Fetal acidosis is another indicator of distress. Acidosis is a condition where metabolic wastes are building to high levels and not being disposed of properly. Acidosis is also a result of too much carbon dioxide in the bloodstream, meaning the fetus is experiencing hypoxic conditions (not enough oxygen). Acidosis can be measured from a serum sample from the fetus.
Often when fetal distress is detected and measures to alleviate it are ineffective, an emergency C-section delivery will be necessary. Some of the most common causes of fetal distress are:
- Hypoxic or anoxic situations- if the mother is experiencing breathing or circulation problems, then the fetus is likely deprived of oxygen as well. The mother could have asthma, pneumonia, trauma, diabetes, or hypertension -any of which could impair the normal oxygen delivery reaching the fetus.
- Fetus in a “bad” position- this could mean that the direction or presentation that the fetus is in within the womb is not optimal for vaginal delivery. A bad position of the baby can also place the umbilical cord between the baby and some structure of the mother’s anatomy causes the cord to be compressed. This results in less oxygen and nutrients being received by the baby.
- Multiple fetuses- carrying two or more babies means that each fetus will be sharing the nutrients and oxygen available, resulting in lower birth weights for each fetus than a womb that is nourishing only one fetus.
- Uterine rupture is a serious medical emergency. In this situation, the uterus is ruptured, or rips open- which results in heavy bleeding that puts both the mother and fetal lives in danger. Without the placental-uterine connection, the fetus is not receiving the oxygen it needs to survive. Uterine rupture can happen from a uterus weakened by previous pregnancies, previous C-sections, and pitocin-induced labor with contractions that are much more powerful than contractions felt during natural labor.
- Placenta abruptia is similar to uterine rupture in that puts the fetus in similar danger of not receiving oxygen, and hemorrhage concerns for the mother. In this dangerous situation, the placenta has detached from the uterine wall. This detachment is not supposed to happen until after the fetus is delivered from the womb.
- Cord problems- the umbilical cord is the fetal lifeline and source of oxygen and nutrients, and the route by which wastes are carried away. Any compromise to the umbilical cord or tight compression of it can result in distress for the fetus. The nuchal cord is a situation where the cord is wrapped tightly around the fetal neck, cutting off oxygen supply to the fetus. Umbilical cord prolapse is a situation where the cord may be compressed because the cord has preceded the fetus through the opening of the cervix and into the vagina. Normally, the fetal head is the first thing to present in delivery followed by the umbilical cord and finally, the placenta.
- Shoulder dystocia is a situation that occurs when the shoulder of the baby gets stuck after the head has already been delivered. This can result in shoulder, neck, and nerve damage to the baby and perineal trauma for the mother.
If you believe an OB/GYN misdiagnosed fetal distress during pregnancy or delivery that resulted in harm or injury to you or the baby, then you may be eligible for damages. Call the Sweeney Law Firm and let us review the facts to establish whether you have an OB/GYN medical malpractice case. If we decide to take your case, we will work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we don’t get paid unless there is a settlement or recovery of funds for you.