There are few things more frightening for expectant parents than the potential for their baby to experience fetal distress. While this condition can be very serious, many babies can fully recover with the help of early detection and prompt treatment. The key is knowing what to look out for and what you can do if you think your baby is at risk.
Fetal distress describes the situation when the developing fetus is not receiving enough oxygen through the placenta during pregnancy and labor. This can occur due to various factors, including umbilical cord complications such as prolapse or compression, placenta previa, preeclampsia, fetal anemia, premature labor, increased contractions, blood pressure fluctuations or abnormal heart rate. It can also be caused by chronic maternal conditions such as diabetes, kidney disease or heart disease.
Fetal distress is as serious as it sounds, as a number of health problems for the baby can occur, including brain damage and cerebral palsy. During pregnancy, healthcare providers monitor for fetal distress at routine visits and continue monitoring for symptoms during labor, often using electronic fetal monitoring or ultrasounds. If necessary, medical intervention may be required to ensure the safe delivery of the baby.
Ultimately, pregnant women must work with their healthcare team and follow any recommended precautions to reduce their risk of experiencing fetal distress during pregnancy and childbirth.
Signs, Symptoms and Diagnosis
The most common signs of fetal distress are changes in the baby’s heart rate or movement. If the baby’s heart rate drops below 140 beats per minute, or increases at a rate higher than normal, this can be a sign that the fetus is under stress and at risk. Additionally, if the developing baby moves less frequently over extended amounts of time or stops moving altogether, this is often a sign that something may be wrong and that they may not getting enough oxygen.
Another cause of fetal distress can be due to low amniotic fluid for the baby’s gestational age, this is also known as oligohydramnios. Oligohydramnios takes place in about four percent of pregnancies and when diagnosed in the last trimester can include complications that may lead to fetal distress.
Regardless of the cause, when a fetus experiences distress in the womb, doctors need to diagnose and address the issue quickly. Electronic fetal monitoring is one common method of detecting fetal distress, which measures the baby’s heart rate. Doctor’s will monitor for low or unusual heart rate patterns which can serve as a warning sign of fetal distress.
Other diagnostic tools include blood tests that measure the level of oxygen in the umbilical cord, additionally, the use of ultrasound imaging, or biophysical profile, can detect changes in the baby’s movements, breathing patterns and amniotic fluid volume.
By closely monitoring these indicators, doctors can often identify when a fetus is experiencing distress and take immediate action to ensure its health and well-being.
Treating Fetal Distress
While fetal distress can lead to serious complications, it is important to note that fetal distress does not always indicate a life-threatening emergency; rather, it may simply signal that interventions such as expedited delivery are necessary. When diagnosed, expectant parents must discuss potential risks with their healthcare provider, likewise, having a plan if fetal anguish is detected during labor and delivery is recommended ahead of time, in case in-the-moment decisions are too difficult to call.
Typically, the primary treatment for fetal anguish is delivering the baby as soon as possible. This can be done via cesarean section or induced labor. Additionally, in some cases, doctors may administer oxygen to the mother to increase the oxygen concentration in the baby’s bloodstream. If diagnosed during labor, oxygen, IV fluids and medications are typically all administered to the mother, and changing delivery positions may be suggested to help increase blood return to the heart and oxygen supply.
Medications may also be used to stimulate contractions and help with delivery. In severe cases where it is not safe to deliver immediately, doctors may need to perform an emergency cesarean section or use other medical interventions such as using forceps or vacuum extraction during delivery.
In cases when cord compression is present, a procedure known as amnioinfusion may occur, in which doctors will inject fluid into the amniotic sac to relieve compression on the umbilical cord.
Ultimately treatment and diagnosis are dependent on the mother’s prenatal care routines or early diagnosis during labor. It is essential that during pregnancy, women receive regular prenatal care and monitor potential issues, such as gestational diabetes, as this can help reduce the risk of fetal anguish. Overall, prompt and proper medical intervention is key in treating fetal anguish to ensure a safe delivery for baby, and the mother as well.
Can Fetal Distress Be Prevented?
For the most part, fetal distress is not something that can be prevented, however there are steps that expectant mothers can take to reduce the likelihood of fetal distress or ensure early detection. One recommendation is to monitor and control high blood pressure, which can significantly affect the baby’s oxygen supply. In addition, regular prenatal care allows medical professionals to keep track of the baby’s well-being and take appropriate action if any issues arise.
It is also important for pregnant women to attend all scheduled ultrasounds and follow their healthcare provider’s guidelines to ensure a healthy pregnancy. While fetal distress cannot always be prevented, following these precautions can greatly minimize the risk and ensure regular monitoring for early diagnosis and successful treatment.