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Fetal Distress – The Causes And Treatment

Two words that strike fear in every mother’s heart – fetal distress. Rather than sit in fear, let’s learn some basic facts about fetal distress and how it is treated.

Fetal distress describes any time that the baby is failing to thrive inside the womb or during labor and delivery. Something has changed and has caused the developing fetus to have difficulties.

Indications of Fetal Distress

One of the conditions that mothers are keenly aware of is a reduction in fetal activity. After a certain length of time, the baby will start to move around within the amniotic sac. It is an exciting time for the expectant parents as the movement of the baby is felt for the first time.

Each time you go to the doctor, you will listen for the baby’s heartbeat. You will also be asked by your doctor about the baby’s movement. If any decreased movement is noticed, this could signal that the baby is in distress. The doctor will investigate immediately to see what the cause may be.

Incidents of fetal distress may occur during the time of labor. The baby’s heartbeat is monitored during labor. A decreased heart rate after a strong contraction could be the result of fetal distress. One cause may be that the umbilical cord is wound around the baby’s neck, reducing or cutting off proper blood supply to the baby.

Meconium is the baby’s first feces. This may occur in the womb if the baby is experiencing some sort of stress such as a prolapsed umbilical cord or a breech position. Meconium aspiration is possible under these conditions. This causes breathing problems that have to be handled immediately upon delivery.

Multiple births can lead to fetal distress. More than one fetus in the womb increases the chance that one or more babies may have some sort of distress during delivery.


When a baby is in distress, everyone in the delivery room acts quickly. Time is of the essence to safely delivery the baby. The first and most desirable course of treatment is delivering the baby immediately. For a baby who is experiencing distress before full term, that can mean a premature birth. Drugs given to speed the development of the lungs will often give the distressed baby a greater chance of survival outside the womb.

When multiple birth babies show signs of fetal distress, cesarean section is a viable solution. Delivering multiple babies who are distressed by a vaginal birth is risky as the medical team may not reach all the babies fast enough or the umbilical cords could be prolapsed. With cesarean delivery, multiple babies can be delivered with the least amount of added stress.

Fetal distress is serious, but can often be monitored with a successful outcome. Sometimes labor is induced with early delivery being the best option. You and your doctor will work closely and quickly together to give your little one a good, healthy start in the world.

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