Causes and management of fetal distress

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Pregnancy comes with several issues and challenges. The morning sickness, the recurring nauseating moment, ache, caring for the other babies and the family as well as worry about the expecting. One of the challenges pregnant women faces in the course of the pregnancy is the discomfort to the fetus in the womb.


Fetal distress is a term used in describing the unstable state of the fetus in the womb. It simply means the fetus is having challenges coping well. It is a common experience in pregnancy, however, with a healthy and issue-free pregnancy; the fetus is not likely to have discomfort.



One of the causes of fetal distress is the state of health of the pregnant mother. The fetus gets nutrients and other things for his/her growth and development the mother through the placenta. It simply goes that if the mother is unhealthy or malnourished, her fetus is likely to be severely affected and vice versa. Certain health conditions such as high blood pressure (which interrupts the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the fetus), diabetes and anemia (affect the growth and development of the fetus) make the fetus susceptible to having fetal distress.

In the same vein, the size and weight of the fetus also play significant role in fetal distress. There is need for regular monitoring growth of the fetus as both extreme largeness and lowness of the fetus have serious implications for the pregnancy. The complication manifests in case of post term pregnancy giving the fetus the chance to grow above the normal average size leading to fetal distress.

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Similarly, the amount of amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac in the womb also play critical role in pregnancy and fetal distress case. The amniotic sac houses the baby for the duration of the pregnancy and the amniotic fluid makes the sac habitable for the fetus to move around the sac. The volume of the fluid either too much or too less play significant role in fetal distress.

Furthermore and most importantly, the fetus needs adequate and regular supply of oxygen to survive in the womb. However, when there is a reduction in level of oxygen available for fetal use, it leads to fetal distress. Low supply of oxygen arises if the placenta lying low, the status of the health of the pregnant mother and other medical conditions.

In the same vein, a multiple pregnancies naturally reduce the available space in the amniotic sac in the womb to accommodate the fetuses. Multiple pregnancies simply increase the risk of fetal distress as the pregnancies progress.

Also related to the above and very critical to the risk of developing fetal distress is the age of the pregnant mother. Women in their mid 30s and above stand higher risk of having of having a pregnancy with fetal distress as against young pregnant women below the age of early 30s.

Management of fetal distress
An abnormal condition that occurs in the process of child delivery is usually referred to as fetal distress. While it is difficult detecting a distress fetus condition, there are some indicators that can possible inform one about the condition.

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Symptoms of fetal distress
Reduced fetal movement felt by the pregnant woman
Meconium presence in the amniotic fluid
Restricted intrauterine growth
Reduced fetal heart rate
Fetal tachycardia
Repetitive variable decelerations
Low biophysical profile
Presence of fetal metabolic acidosis
Increased levels of fetal blood lactate



Some of the diagnostic measures include ultrasound scan monitoring of fetal movements
Fetal acid base test to confirm fetal distress
Maternal uterine contraction
Hypoxia level evaluation
Regular examination of the amniotic fluid


Available treatment options include:

Intrauterine resuscitation especially in a non-reassuring fetal status
Emergency cesarean section in cases of severe fetal distress and the presence of a cord prolapse
Pregnant woman should be encouraged to lie on the left side
Adequate intake of water to enhance proper hydration
There must be adequate supply of oxygen
Delaying of preterm labor
Insertion of fluid into the amniotic cavity to eliminate the compression of the umbilical cord


Common complications include irritation to the baby lung tissues, blockage of the airways, brain damage and loss of life.

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