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Fetal Distress

Fetal Stress During Pregnancy and Delivery

Fetal distress is a catch-all term used to describe signs that a baby is unwell or in danger during pregnancy or in labor and delivery. If fetal distress goes undetected, and proper actions are not taken to help the baby, the baby could suffer serious birth injury or be stillborn.

Signs and Symptoms of Fetal Distress

True fetal distress includes signs of extreme stress that must be dealt with promptly to avoid serious complications. Signs and symptoms of fetal distress include:

  • Reduced fetal movement or lack of movement altogether
  • Meconium (fetal feces) in amniotic fluid
  • Decreased heart rate
  • A significant increase in heart rate
  • Lack in response to stimuli
  • Cramping

Many of these symptoms are only present during the birthing process, when a baby is under the most distress from labor. Hospitals use electronic heart monitoring to detect dangerous dips or spikes in heart rate levels, which are sure signs of fetal distress. A nurse or doctor should be regularly monitoring the fetal charts to detect any worrisome symptoms.

Women who are not yet at the delivery stage do not benefit from this constant monitoring. It is up to them to notice any odd symptoms. Fetal distress during pregnancy is most notable by the lack of fetal movement. During the end of her pregnancy, a woman should feel around 10 or more kicks per hour. Anything less than that is cause for concern. A doctor should be notified, as this is a sign the baby is unwell.

Causes of Fetal Distress

Fetal distress can be caused by a variety of factors including oxygen deprivation, a prolonged labor, infection or other pregnancy complications. Women carrying multiples are more likely to experience fetal distress than in single births. Additionally, serious complications such as uterine rupture and placental abruption can also cause fetal distress.

Preventing Fetal Distress

A doctor should recognize risk factors of fetal distress and take appropriate measures to prevent it. For example, if a woman is carrying multiples, the doctor may decide to schedule an early C-section to help prevent pressure on the umbilical cords and other potential complications.

In most cases, it is not the prevention of fetal distress that is a concern, but rather the actions taken to identify it and prevent any serious effects. Proper fetal monitoring during labor and delivery is an important part in this detection. Failing to monitor the baby may result in missed early signs of fetal distress, and thus, missed opportunities to help the baby. Often the best course of action is to deliver a baby in distress by emergency C-section, unless delivery is imminent.

The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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