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
The pregnancy lasts too long (postmaturity).
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. 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:
Contractions that are too strong and/or too close together may cause fetal distress. If oxytocin 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.