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Fetal Distress

When the fetus is not coping well during labor, it indicates fetal distress. Fetal distress is rare and may not occur if the mother and the fetus have been progressing well through pregnancy. The term fetal distress is normally used when the baby's oxygen supply is compromised in the uterus.

During fetal distress, the heart rate of the fetus is monitored continuously using an electronic heartbeat monitor. Symptoms of fetal distress include:

  • Mother feels decreased fetal movement
  • Meconium in the amniotic fluid
  • Increased/decreased heart beat in fetus particularly after contractions

Causes for fetal distress

  • Oxygen supply through the umbilical cord has reduced
  • Delivery is happening beyond the expected date of delivery
  • Abnormal presentation or position of fetus
  • Prolonged labor
  • Contractions are happening very fast for the mother
  • Baby size is smaller than average
  • Prolapse of the umbilical cord
  • Placental abruption, wherein during delivery fetus separates from placenta too early
  • Diabetic mother
  • Uterine rupture
  • Mother has low blood pressure in mother during delivery
  • Multiple deliveries
  • Mother is over 35 years of age while delivering the baby.

The doctor attending to the mother experiencing fetal distress may follow any of the following:
Cesarean section
Episiotomy
Inducing labor with medication.
Vacuum extraction delivery - using a suction cup to pull the baby down the birth canal by placing the suction cup on the baby's head.
Making the mother lie down on her left side so as to ease the pressure off the blood vessels and thus the uterus.
Mother may be put on intravenous to improve fluid levels.
Mother may be put on additional oxygen to improve supply of oxygen to the fetus.

Cesarean section

Cesarean section or C-section is a surgical method of delivering a baby. A cut is made across the belly just above the pubic area. A horizontal incision is made in the lower uterine portion. LSCS - Lower segment Cesarean section is the preferred type of Cesarean surgery today as it allows the uterus to remain strong for future childbirth. The uterus is opened along with the amniotic sac and the baby is delivered. This is resorted to when a vaginal delivery is not possible; either because of risk to the mother or baby. Typical cases where Cesarean section is opted for are fetal distress, breech baby, uterine rupture, prolonged labor, hypertension in mother, tachycardia in mother or child or contracted pelvis. In cases of twin pregnancy or triplets, Cesarean section is opted. When the baby's heart rate is abnormally high or the baby has developmental problems, the obstetrician might suggest a c-section. But being a surgical procedure, Cesarean section carries some amount of risk. There can be chances of hemorrhage leading to anemia or need for blood transfusion. There is risk of infection at incision site or injury to other organs. The recovery time is longer than a normal vaginal delivery.


Placental Abruption

The placenta usually separates from the uterus after the birth of the baby. Placental abruption is a condition where the placenta separates from the uterine wall during the pregnancy. Placental abruption is a serious condition and can put the baby at risk. This is a medical emergency. Hypertension can sometimes lead to placental abruption. Women who have blood-clotting disorders may experience placental abruption. Women suffering from diabetes or abusing drugs are also at higher risk for placental abruption. Those women who have had multiple pregnancies are also at higher risk for placental abruption.


A pregnant woman suffering from placental abruption is likely to have abdominal and back pain. There might be rapid uterine contractions. There is tenderness in the abdomen. Uterine bleeding is often noticed. Placental abruption can occur anytime after the 20th week of pregnancy.


An ultrasound can help in locating any possible blood clot behind the placenta. It can also help in checking for any signs of fetal distress. Fetal monitoring is essential since the placenta supplies nutrients to the growing fetus. There may be decreased fetal movements. The extent of placental abruption decides the course of treatment to be followed. Partial placental abruption needs adequate bed rest and close monitoring. In cases of total placental abruption, delivery of the infant is undertaken. This is either with vaginal delivery or cesarian section. But there is a risk of premature birth and fetal death. The newborn baby could suffer brain damage due to low levels of oxygen in the blood.

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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: October 16, 2017