What is fetal distress and how does it relate to birth injuries?


While it may be true that giving birth these days is safer than ever, residents of Pittsburgh should never underestimate the fact that serious complications can arise during the labor and delivery process. If not properly responded to, these complications could cause a birth injury to the newborn infant, or even cause the infant to die. For these reasons, it is important for physicians to understand the signs of fetal distress.


In general, fetal distress occurs when the fetus is not getting sufficient oxygen. This lack of oxygen could lead to severe birth injuries if left untreated. Physicians can recognize signs of fetal distress through the infant's heart rate pattern, which should be monitored throughout the labor and delivery process. For example, electronic fetal heart monitors may be used during the labor and delivery process or an ultrasound device can be used to monitor the fetus's heart rate periodically.

If, based on these heart rate patterns, it seems that the fetus is in distress, several actions may be taken. For example, the mother can be given oxygen or intravenous fluids. She can also be turned so that she is lying on her left side. If these actions are not taken or do not work, it is important for the infant to be born immediately.

This may happen via cesarean section, or through the use of forceps or a vacuum extractor. Unfortunately, these measures also pose a hazard to the infant and present possibility of further birth injuries. Furthermore, the lack of oxygen could significantly impact the infant's health in a negative fashion.

When a child suffers, their parents suffer. The last thing expectant parents want to experience is having their child suffer an injury due to the actions or inactions of a negligent doctor. Sadly, these occurrences happen with alarming frequency. Furthermore, certain types of birth injuries could necessitate years of medical treatment, rehabilitation or therapy.

Parents should not be made to shoulder the costs of such treatments alone. If their child's birth injury is caused by the negligence of the attending physician or hospital staff, they may have the right to seek compensation.

Source: Merck Manual Consumer Version, "Fetal Distress," Julie S. Moldenhauer, MD, Accessed May 3, 2015

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