Though there is some disagreement among medical professionals as what exactly constitutes Fetal distress, the term ‘fetal distress’ has itself found disfavor in the recent times, there are generally accepted symptoms that are associated with fetal distress or what constitutes fetal distress.
There are generally accepted signs and symptoms of fetal distress, though there are often false positives of distress that may be noted in electronic fetal monitoring as well, which is one of the chief criticisms against this monitoring and the fact that unnecessary medical interventions may result when relying on these.
Fetal distress is characterized by a deprivation of oxygen to a baby’s brain which is usually detectable by monitoring of the fetal heart rate.
Anomalies in the heart rate of the baby are usually the indicator relied on to detect such oxygen deprivation that could be the cause of neurological damage and which may be cause enough for the baby to be born immediately, even if it means medical intervention ranging from induction to a cesarean section.
There are two heart indicators of the healthy fetus, (a) that the heart rate should be below 160 beats a minute and above 100 to 120 beats a minute and (b) the heart rate should be steady and not irregular.
There is a view that says electronic fetal monitoring say that this actually increases the risk of a C section or an instrument aided vaginal delivery and even infection and cerebral palsy in premature babies. However the indications of fetal distress that can be watched out for are:
- The pregnant women should be keeping an eye out for decreased fetal movement, which could be due to fetal distress.
- Meconium could have been passed before birth in which case this could be mixed with the amniotic fluid, which if ingested is toxic to the baby.
- Tests that medical professionals can carry out to determine fetal distress can include the collection of a tiny sample of blood from the baby’s scalp through the open cervix during labor. This could indicate elevated fetal blood lactate levels and could be a more reliable indicator of fetal distress.
Fetal distress could result from a number of different causes such as abnormal presentation or position of the fetus, breathing problems, multiple births, umbilical cord prolapse, placental abnormalities or abruption, shoulder dystocia, nuchal cord, or premature closure of the fetus’s ductus arteriosus.