Spotting signs of fetal distress can be crucial to the prevention of birth injuries in Kingston, New York

The term, "fetal distress", is hated by the medical community...and for good reason.  Fetal distress is a term used to indicate that your baby is not getting enough oxygen during your pregnancy and the lack of oxygen to your baby can cause long-term neurological injuries, cerebral palsy and death.

What are the signs of fetal distress?  The most reliable sign of fetal distress is very old school: the mother's instincts.  It is often the case that mom knows better than any physician that her baby is in trouble and this is often revealed by decreased movement of the baby felt by the mother. If the baby is not moving in the mother's womb, this is the number one sign of fetal distress and that the baby may need to be delivered pronto.

What else to look for? The fetal heart rate pattern provides valuable clues about the baby's status.  When an electronic fetal monitor is attached to the mother's abdomen, a continuous tracing of your baby's heart can indicate that your baby is in distress.  The fetal heart rate should range between 100 and 160 beats per minute; a fetal heart rate that is either too low (less than 100 beats per minute) or too high (over 160 beats per minute) can indicate that your baby is not receiving enough oxygen and may need to be delivered.

There are two key terms to remember about fetal heart tracing: late decelerations and variable decelerations.  They are both bad for your baby.  Late decelerations means that the decrease in the fetal heart rate from the baseline rate has a lag time of twenty seconds from the peak of the contractions to the bottom of the fetal heart rate deceleration.  Persistent late decelerations in the fetal heart rate tracing is a sign of fetal distress.

Variable decelerations in the fetal heart tracing refers to decreases in the fetal heart tracing from the baseline rate that are non-uniform changes that bear little relationship to uterine contractions.  Variable decelerations are a sign of fetal distress since they are a deviation from the steady pattern of uterine contractions and heart decelerations that are a sign of fetal well-being.

When an electronic fetal monitor (EFM) is applied to your abdomen, you should ask your doctor, nurse midwife or labor and delivery nurse whether the fetal heart tracings have any late decelerations or variable decelerations.  If there is a persistent pattern of late decelerations or variable decelerations over the course of two minutes, your baby is likely not getting enough oxygen and may need to be delivered.

Another sign of fetal distress is the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid.  Meconium is discoloration of the amniotic fluid caused by your baby's first stool. If the amniotic fluid appears green after the mother's membranes have ruptured, your baby may be in trouble.

What do you do if there are signs of fetal distress?  Fetal distress is often temporary and can be resolved with simple measures such as turning the mother on her left side, administering oxygen by mask and performing a vaginal examination to check for a prolapsed umbilical cord.  If these interventions do not improve the signs of fetal distress, your care providers must be ready for an emergency cesarean section.

Every minute counts when there is fetal distress.  Long term neurological injuries, cerebral palsy and disability can result if signs of fetal distress are ignored or neglected by your care providers.  You should be familiar with the signs of fetal distress and most importantly, trust your instincts if you have a gut feeling that something is wrong with your baby.