Today, our top Chicago birth injury lawyers discuss a common precursor to injuries at birth: fetal distress.
What Is Fetal Distress?
Fetal distress occurs when an infant – either in utero or during the childbirth process – suffers from a compromised oxygen supply. While fetal distress is a single condition, it can in turn be caused by any number of things. These potential causes include:
- maternal illness
- placental abruption
- umbilical cord compression
- fetal infection
- maternal position (putting pressure on major blood vessels and thereby limiting the infant’s oxygen).
If fetal distress is not corrected promptly and correctly, the consequences can be tragic. Many infants who suffer fetal distress are left with a serious, often permanent, neurologic or intellectual disability. Others do not survive childbirth. Physicians and other medical professionals who fail to promptly respond to fetal distress can be guilty of medical malpractice.
What Is My Risk?
Estimates of how common fetal distress is vary. But, in general, experts estimate that fetal distress occurs anywhere from once in every 25 births to once in every 100 births. There are also a number of risk factors for fetal distress. When these risk factors are present, both mother and baby should be carefully monitored. The failure to properly monitor when these conditions are present can constitute actionable medical negligence. These risk factors include:
- intrauterine growth restriction
- hydramnios or oligohydramnios
- preeclampsia or eclampsia
- gestational diabetes
- multiple pregnancy.
At times, high-risk pregnancies are easily identifiable based upon a mother’s medical history. At other times, a high-risk pregnancy can be identified based on simple laboratory tests (such as the test for gestational diabetes). Physicians who fail to identify these high-risk pregnancies, and properly monitor the fetus for signs of distress, may be committing medical malpractice.
Symptoms of Fetal Distress
The primary symptom of fetal distress is decreased heartrate. In high-risk cases, as well as during the childbirth process, fetal heartrate can be easily monitored using a fetal monitor. The failure to properly monitor fetal heartrate can lead to fetal distress and to serious or even deadly birth injury.
Another strong indicator of fetal distress is a changed pattern in fetal movement, particularly a decrease or cessation of fetal movements. Some infants in distress also have their first bowel movement (a substance called meconium) while still in their mother’s uterus.
What Can Be Done?
Fetal Distress is an extremely serious condition that must be addressed promptly. Generally, an infant in distress must be delivered as soon as possible. Sometimes, if a natural birth is close to complete, a vaginal birth can proceed. But almost always, fetal distress calls for an immediate or emergency C-section.
A Mother’s Role
Hopefully, your practitioner will notice fetal distress and respond appropriately — especially if distress occurs during labor and delivery. You can also watch for fetal distress yourself by keeping track of your baby’s movements or performing the “kick test” –counting the number of kicks from your baby during a one to two-hour period.
Any time you believe your baby may be in distress, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor should hook you up to a fetal monitor to ensure that your baby is not in distress.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago birth injury attorney at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.