Fetal Distress and its Link to Cerebral Palsy

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What Causes Fetal Distress?

There are several conditions during pregnancy and labor that can bring on fetal distress. The most common is when the baby is not receiving adequate amounts of oxygen via the placenta. Other conditions that can trigger fetal distress include:

  • Mispositioning in which the baby is not in a good position in the womb for delivery
  • Medical negligence through the improper use of medical tools such as forceps and vacuum extractors
  • The umbilical cord wrapped around the baby’s neck or other body part
  • Poor maternal blood circulation due to other health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure
  • Placental abruption in which the placenta ruptures or becomes detached from the uterine wall
  • Uterine rupture resulting in severe internal bleeding and putting both mother and child at risk
  • High maternal blood pressure or pre-eclampsia
  • Maternal obesity
  • A multiple pregnancy, i.e. twins, triplets, etc.

Fetal Distress Symptoms

Fetal distress is a medical complication during labor and childbirth. An infant in fetal distress will have a heart rate greater than 160 or less than 120 beats per minute between contractions. There may or may not be the presence of meconium-stained amniotic fluid. Additional signs of fetal distress include:

  • An abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Meconium in the amniotic fluid
  • Maternal cramping
  • Abnormal maternal weight gain

During pregnancy, an obstetrician may perform a nonstress test with an electronic fetal monitor to measure the baby’s heart rate while the mother is sitting or lying down. Or they may choose to perform a test called a biophysical profile in which an ultrasound measures fetal movement, muscle, breathing movement, and amniotic fluid volume.

Healthcare providers carefully monitor a baby’s heart rate during childbirth to detect fetal distress early on. The two most common ways to measure this is with an electronic fetal heart rate monitor or a doppler device.

The Link Between Fetal Distress and Cerebral Palsy

Because fetal distress signals a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain, it must be corrected promptly as it can cause permanent brain damage. According to Cerebral Palsy Guidance, research indicates a definite connection between fetal distress (asphyxia) and an increased risk of developing cerebral palsy.

A study published by the National Library of Medicine suggests the complete elimination of fetal distress would reduce the prevalence of cerebral palsy in newborns by more than 15%. This perfect obstetric management of fetal distress could reduce the risk of cerebral palsy by 9% in full term babies or 6% overall.

Prevention of Fetal Distress

While a pregnant person or medical provider cannot always anticipate fetal distress, there are steps one can take to attempt to prevent it and decrease risk:

  • Maintaining a healthy pregnancy by eating healthy, exercising in moderation, maintaining healthy weight gain, avoiding drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, or taking drugs.
  • Attending all prenatal doctor visits and regularly taking prenatal vitamins.
  • Discussing any unusual symptoms with an obstetrician including lack of fetal movement.
  • Reporting any health conditions with an obstetrician including vaginal bleeding, excessive vaginal fluid discharge, or continuous or frequent contractions.

Treatment for Fetal Distress

There a several strategies and medical interventions a healthcare provider might employ to alleviate fetal distress:

  • Have the mother change positions to increase blood flow to the heart and oxygen supply to the baby.
  • Give the mother oxygen by mask.
  • Give the mother fluids via an IV line.
  • Administer medication to slow or stop contractions.
  • Amnioinfusion, a procedure which injects fluid into the mother’s amniotic sac to relieve umbilical cord compression.

Fetal Distress Prognosis and Long-term Effects

Fetal distress is a serious condition with long-ranging effects if it’s not treated promptly and properly. A prolonged lack of oxygen can lead to brain injury, cerebral palsy, seizures, multiple organ problems, breathing problems, learning disabilities, social challenges, cognitive and behavioral issues, or even stillbirth.

Pintas & Mullins Birth Injury Attorneys Will Fight for You

If your child experienced fetal distress during your pregnancy or delivery and you feel your condition was medically mismanaged, you may be entitled to compensation. Long-term care, medications, treatments, and surgeries will be a costly, emotionally draining journey for your family for the rest of your child’s life. You should not have to add the worry of expensive treatments onto the trauma of experiencing a preventable lifelong injury. Our highly experienced birth injury attorneys will assess your case at no charge.

Call or text 800-934-6555 or complete our Free Case Evaluation form online to get started today.

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Yes. Please have an attorney, paralegal, or staff member from Pintas & Mullins law firm or their co-counsel contact me as soon as possible to discuss my questions. They may contact me by email or telephone (including phone calls, text messages, autodialed / auto-selected or pre-recorded calls). I understand that message and data rates may apply and that consent to such contact is not required for use of these services. I also agree to the Privacy Policy, Anti Fraud Policy and online Terms, including its mandatory arbitration provision.
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