On this page:
Fetal monitoring is one of the most important aspects of labor and delivery. Properly monitoring mother and baby during labor will ensure that the proper care is given and that fetal distress isn't occurring or that any complications or emergencies are quickly addressed, should they arise. One such complication is fetal distress.
What is Fetal Distress?
This term is traditionally used to describe a situation where the baby is not getting sufficient oxygen during pregnancy or labor. Fetal distress is most frequently detected through electronic fetal heart rate monitoring.
Abnormalities in fetal heart rate indicate that there is a potential problem, allowing doctors to take the appropriate steps to move forward with a swift and safe delivery.
But what happens if a doctor or nurse fails to properly monitor a baby’s heart rate? What if fetal distress is indicated on fetal heart rate monitoring, but there is a delay in addressing the problem?
These are issues that may indicate medical negligence. If you suspect any type of wrongdoing, the Law Firm of Michael H. Bereston can help. We can talk to you, review medical records, and make an initial assessment of whether you may have a case. We can help you take the first steps toward justice.
Contact Maryland fetal distress attorney Michael Bereston at (410) 220-6581 for highly experienced and compassionate counsel.
Addressing Fetal Distress
Fetal distress can be addressed in various ways. Changing the mother’s position and ensuring the mother is hydrated and has sufficient oxygen are both fairly easy ways to address minor fetal distress, but in more serious cases, intravenous medication or amnioinfusion (the insertion of fluid in the amniotic cavity to relieve pressure on the umbilical cord) may be required. In severe cases of fetal distress, a C-section may need to be performed as quickly as possible.
Delays in response to fetal distress or negligent fetal monitoring can lead to:
What Causes Fetal Distress?
Medical providers attending to a pregnant mother, whether or not she is in labor, need to always pay close attention to her unborn child’s health as well as her own. With careful examinations and the proper use of medical treatments and tools, the warning signs and causes of fetal distress can be identified early and, hopefully, prevented entirely.
What are some of the most common causes of fetal distress?
- Mispositioning: There are only a few fetal positions considered to be safe for delivery. When a fetus is mispositioned, delivery can put the mother and infant at risk. Shoulder dystocia – pulling the shoulder and causing nerve damage – is one of the most common complications caused by mispositioning.
- Blood circulation issues: When a fetus is not getting adequate blood supply in utero, it is also not getting adequate oxygen supply, which can cause hypoxic or anoxic complications. A mother’s health issues can contribute to blood circulation dangers. Asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure are all commonly associated with a higher risk of oxygen deprivation in an unborn child.
- Tangled umbilical cord: When an unborn child is in the womb or is being delivered, the umbilical cord can tangle around them. A tangle around a limb may injure the limb, but it is more dangerous when the umbilical cord causes strangulation by constricting the neck.
- Misused medical tools: In some births, medical tools like forceps and vacuum extractors can be used to assist with delivery. The misuse of these tools can actually harm the child, though. Forceps can cause cranial lacerations and vacuum extractors that attach to the infant’s head can cause brain injury or fetal distress.
- Placental abruption: The placenta that supplies an unborn child with nutrients can rupture or completely detach while in the womb. The unborn child may experience a severe drop in oxygen supply, and the mother may suffer internal bleeding. Medical providers must act quickly at the first sign of placenta abruption.
- Uterine rupture: Another severely dangerous situation that can cause fetal distress is uterine rupture, in which the mother’s uterus is ruptured. Internal bleeding can be immediate and severe, putting both the mother and her unborn child in a potentially life-threatening situation.
Warning Signs of Fetal Distress
If fetal distress can be diagnosed early, then there is a better chance that a medical professional can treat the infant. Identifying warning signs of fetal distress is an expected responsibility of doctors and nurses who are caring for a pregnant woman, regardless of how many months into her pregnancy she is. When these signs are overlooked, ignored, or misdiagnosed, it can constitute a serious incident of medical malpractice.
Seven telltale signs of fetal distress are:
- Little or no fetal movement: One of the most obvious signs that something is wrong with a baby in utero is a decline in fetal movement. During a healthy pregnancy, the mother should feel the child moving more and more as it develops. Medical providers should conduct additional tests if the mother reports a drop in fetal movement and activity.
- Unusual fetal heartbeat: Just as in an adult, the heartbeat of an unborn baby should be consistent. Some changes can occur during contractions, but it should correct itself shortly after. Using electrodes and contraction stress tests, medical providers can listen to a fetal heartbeat. If it beats too quickly, too slowly, or at an unusual pace, then it could be a sign of fetal distress.
- Abnormal amniotic fluids: There is a variety of medical tools and knowledge available to determine if the amniotic fluid levels in a womb are safe and normal. A doctor can use the established amniotic fluid index, the “single deepest pocket” assessment, and ultrasound to take measurements. A low level of amniotic fluid – called oligohydramnios – can cause oxygen deprivation and permanent brain damage in the unborn child.
- Vaginal bleeding: Most pregnant women experience some amount of vaginal bleeding, but it should never be so much that medical attention is required. A large amount of vaginal bleeding can suggest placental abruption, which can threaten the health of both the mother and her child. Oftentimes, emergency C-sections are required when placental abruption is diagnosed.
- Excessive cramping: Painful cramps can occur as an unborn baby grows and causes shifts and displacements inside the mother. Frequent or extremely painful cramps can be a sign of fetal distress or an impending miscarriage, though.
- Unsafe weight gain or loss: Pregnant women are expected to gain weight to a noticeable degree, especially in the later months of pregnancy. Every woman will gain different amounts of weight depending on her current health, past pregnancies, height, genetics, and much more. Part of an obstetrician’s role is understanding a patient’s health and predicting what will be a normal amount of weight gain. If a pregnant woman gains too much weight, barely gains weight, or starts to lose weight, then it could cause fetal distress or be the cause of it.
- Hypertension: Abnormally high blood pressure is dangerous in all circumstances. A pregnant mother with hypertension – sometimes called maternal high blood pressure – could be put at risk of heart failure. Or her unborn child could be receiving low levels of oxygen due to interrupted blood flow.
Based in Annapolis, Serving Families Across Maryland & the Entire U.S.
At the Law Firm of Michael H. Bereston, we realize what is at stake for a family who has suffered the consequences of obstetric negligence. Michael Bereston is a Maryland fetal distress lawyer serving clients across the U.S. He has more than 30 years of trial experience to apply to complex cases involving fetal distress. We offer caring, skilled representation on a contingent fee basis, which means you pay nothing unless there is a recovery.