Fetal distress is an uncommon complication of labor. It typically occurs when the fetus has not been receiving enough oxygen.
Fetal distress may occur when
Other complications of pregnancy or labor (such as difficult or rapid labor) occur.
Usually, doctors identify fetal distress based on an abnormal heart rate pattern in the fetus. Throughout labor, the fetus’s heart rate is monitored. It is usually monitored continuously with electronic fetal heart monitoring Fetal monitoring Labor is a series of rhythmic, progressive contractions of the uterus that gradually move the fetus through the lower part of the uterus (cervix) and birth canal (vagina) to the outside world... read more . Or a handheld Doppler ultrasound device may be used to check the heart rate every 15 minutes during early labor and after each contraction during late labor.
If a significant abnormality in the heart rate is detected, it can usually be corrected by the following:
Giving the woman oxygen
Increasing the amount of fluids given intravenously to the woman
Turning the woman on one side or the other
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Contractions that are too strong and/or too close together may cause fetal distress. If oxytocin Induction of Labor was used to stimulate contractions, it is stopped immediately. The woman may be repositioned and given analgesics. If no drug was used to stimulate contractions, the woman may be given a drug that can slow labor (such as terbutaline, given by injection) to stop or slow the contractions.
If these measures to correct the fetus's heart rate or control contractions are not effective, the baby is delivered as quickly as possible by a vacuum extractor Operative Vaginal Delivery Operative vaginal delivery is delivery using a vacuum extractor or forceps. A vacuum extractor consists of a small cup made of a rubberlike material that is connected to a vacuum. It is inserted... read more , forceps Operative Vaginal Delivery Operative vaginal delivery is delivery using a vacuum extractor or forceps. A vacuum extractor consists of a small cup made of a rubberlike material that is connected to a vacuum. It is inserted... read more , or cesarean delivery Cesarean Delivery Cesarean delivery is surgical delivery of a baby by incision through a woman’s abdomen and uterus. In the United States, up to 30% of deliveries are cesarean. Doctors use a cesarean delivery... read more .