Fetal distress is when your baby’s oxygen supply in the womb becomes compromised which can result in a decreased heart rate and can be potentially serious for the baby. This usually occurs during childbirth but can occur in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Lack of fetal movement: Changes in fetal movement will occur during your pregnancy and are normal as your baby grows, settles into an activity pattern and as your pregnancy progresses and your baby does not have much room to move around. You should still be able to feel regular movements though and if this is not the case it may indicated fetal distress and you must seek urgent advice from your health care professional. Keep in mind that all babies are different and some are going to be more active than others, it is what is usual for your baby that is important; so be concerned if you notice a change in pattern. Taking time to kick count is an important and useful way to monitor fetal movement.
Vaginal bleeding: It is not unusual to have small amounts of vaginal bleeding during your pregnancy however it might indicate fetal distress or other problems. Always have vaginal bleeding checked out by your health care professional.
Heart rate changes: Your baby’s heart rate indicates a lot about his or her health and will be monitored at ante-natal checks and during labor and delivery. A heart rate that is too fast, too slow, or erratic can indicated fetal distress. Your baby’s heart rate is likely to slow down during contractions but should return to normal soon after a contraction ends. It is likely your baby’s heart rate will be closely monitored during labor and especially if any sign of fetal distress is observed.
Cramping: Cramping is quite normal during pregnancy as your baby grows and your body changes to accommodate however if cramping becomes regular or severe or is accompanied by back ache it may indicated placental abruption which in turn can cause fetal distress. Seek medical attention if the cramping is intense, is accompanied by back ache or your are concerned.
Maternal high blood pressure: Your blood pressure will be monitored during pregnancy particularly as you approach your due date as some women who have normal blood pressure develop high blood pressure (preeclampsia) in pregnancy which can cause fetal distress and other serious health concerns for mother and baby. If high blood pressure is picked during ante-natal checks or labor your will be very closely monitored and your baby for fetal distress.
Amniotic fluid staining: As soon as your amniotic sac breaks in labor it will be checked for staining; if there is a brown/green staining it may indicated that your baby has passed a stool during labor which is a sign of fetal distress.
Fetal scalp sampling: During labor your doctor may take a sample of blood from your baby’s head once able to and from this sample they can determine the level of oxygen in your baby’s blood which is a good indicator of fetal distress.
If fetal distress is picked up during labor a C-section becomes more likely however each case will be considered and determined for the safest and least invasive action.
Whilst it is natural to be concerned when your baby is in distress during labor it is important to remember that complications in child birth commonly arise for all sorts of reasons and are beyond your control. Your care team will know what to do and take the best action for a safe delivery for mother and baby.