What is fetal distress and what are its causes?

Generally, fetal distress comes on suddenly; hence the importance of taking into account the causes. This means being attentive to evolution during pregnancy to detect complications that may arise over time.

Failure to take timely action can cause brain damage in the child that will leave lifelong consequences. However, with technological advances in medicine, the occurrence of these disorders caused by fetal distress has been greatly reduced.

What is fetal distress and what are its symptoms?

Fetal distress is a disturbance in the exchange of oxygen and nutrients between the fetus and the mother.through the placenta. Usually, this situation occurs shortly before or during delivery. This is why a monitoring of the baby should be done to check that he is doing well.

In case the pregnant mother has any of the following symptoms, she should contact her doctor immediately and follow the instructions given by the professional:

  • Absence of fetal movement for more than 24 hours. In this case, it is recommended to eat something sweet and lie on your left side to monitor the reappearance of movements at home.
  • vaginal bleeding. Although vaginal bleeding can occur during pregnancy, it can only respond to aa stained. In any case, if it persists or is abundant, it is an alarm signal.
  • Premature rupture of membranes. AND condition it is also known as break the water OR source break. A clear liquid appears through the vagina with a bleach-like odor.
  • Colic. They can have various causes. In fact they are normal if they have to do with the growth of the fetus. But if they’re frequent, intense, and involve the back, they should get attention.
  • Hypertension. It is a symptom of preeclampsia and can be life threatening for both the mother and the fetus.
  • Weight gain or loss. Here we are referring to an increase or decrease exaggerated weight, which may be associated with other diseases.
Fetal monitoring.
Fetal monitoring can be done at home or in the clinic with appropriate devices.

What if there is fetal distress?

The evolution of fetal distress implies hypoxia (lack of oxygen in the blood) and acidosis (build-up of acid in the blood). If they get worse, they lead to a much more serious condition.

This situation can lead to a drop in the baby’s heart rate and blood pressure.. In the most serious cases it continues with multi-organ failure, i.e. multiple organs at the same time. The next step is a potentially lethal shock.

After birth, babies are given the proof of the apgar, which consists of an evaluation to determine the degree of fetal viability upon exiting the uterus. Similarly, a pH test is performed to determine the level of acidosis present in the newborn’s umbilical cord blood. These elements form the basis for diagnosing the existence or otherwise of fetal suffering.

Causes of fetal distress

When the time of delivery approaches and the mother has arrived at the hospital, one of the first protocols implemented is to monitor the child. This procedure is done to check the baby’s functions if there is fetal distress.

Although the causes that generate this condition are different, the mother must be vigilant, especially starting from the third trimester. Let’s see the most frequent etiological reasons.


During the course of pregnancy, the main causes are as follows:

  • Maternal: Different types of conditions that the mother has result in poor oxygen supply to the fetus. Among the most important are maternal hypoxia, arterial hypotension and, conversely, hypertension or preeclampsia.
  • placentals: they originate in the placenta and can give rise to fetal distress. Among the most common are placental abruption, premature aging of the placenta, and previous placenta.
  • Funiculars: are those involving the umbilical cord, such as the presence of knots in it, rotation or twisting of the cord, and very short extension or prolapse.
  • Fetals: the origin may be associated with hemolytic anemia, infection or Rh incompatibility between the fetus and the mother.
  • Uterine: They are due to the presence of a tumor in the uterus or to supine decubitus syndrome. This particular case occurs because the woman spends too much time lying on her back, which compresses the large veins in the abdomen that carry blood to the uterus.
Fetal monitoring with apparatus.
Upon admission to the hospital, the mother is evaluated with fetal heart rate monitors.

in childbirth

In addition to the causes that can occur during pregnancy, giving rise to fetal distress, there are conditions during childbirth that can lead to the appearance of the condition. The most important are the following:

  • The age of the mother, whether she is very young or over 35 years old.
  • When they are new mothers or have had many previous births.
  • If the mother has a history of malformations, prematurity or fetal death in previous acts.
  • When the likely due date is several weeks past or labor is very prolonged.
  • if the child is excessively large and its exit through the vaginal canal is complicated due to its size.

Should I be concerned about fetal distress?

You don’t need to obsess over fetal distress and its possibility of occurring, but It is prudent for the pregnant woman to carry out the relevant checks on a monthly basis. In addition, you should get advice on warning signs for immediate consultation.

There are some healthy habits, such as a balanced diet, an active life and ways to rest that all mothers can apply in their daily life to reduce the future risk. Healthcare professionals are trained to provide this advice.

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