Can Fetal Distress Cause a Birth Injury? 

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When a fetus is distressed during the labor process, the issue could be dangerous for mom and baby alike.

Expectant parents typically have one wish for their unborn child — that the child will be healthy. Unfortunately, while most pregnancies go as planned for both mom and baby, sometimes complications arise that put either or both at risk of injury or death. Fetal distress is one such worrisome complication. If your baby has suffered a birth injury as a result of fetal distress that could have been prevented or treated differently, you should consult with a lawyer promptly. 

What is Fetal Distress?

The American Pregnancy Association explains that, typically, the term fetal distress has been used to describe a situation when a fetus is not receiving enough oxygen during pregnancy or labor. Unfortunately, however, the term can be a bit ambiguous. Indeed, fetal distress and birth asphyxia, when a baby does not have enough oxygen during or after labor, are often used interchangeably, though they really are not the same thing. Experts have suggested the term “fetal distress” be replaced with the term “non-reassuring fetal status” instead, as this is a more general term that does not imply the fetus is injured. It implies instead only that there is an absence of proof the baby is well. Most medical professional have abandoned the use of the term “fetal distress” in favor of the less ominous sounding “non-reassuring fetal status.” Unfortunately, there are times when it is clear that a fetus is in real distress and in danger of becoming severely injured if not delivered promptly. Even in those circumstances, however, many medical professionals now seem to use the term “non-reassuring.” Unfortunately, this is sometimes motivated by the desire of the medical professional to avoid documenting anything in the chart that suggests the professional did not act appropriately under the circumstances. 

Causes of Fetal Distress

Fetal distress can be caused by many different things, including:

  • A pregnancy lasting longer than 40 weeks;
  • Prolonged labor;
  • Umbilical cord issues, including the umbilical cord becoming wrapped around the fetus’s neck;
  • Infections;
  • Uterine abruption or rupture;
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension; and
  • Fetal or maternal blood loss

Essentially anything that causes a reduction in oxygen delivery to the fetus can cause fetal distress.

Fetal Distress and Birth Injuries: Is There a Connection?

Developing fetuses and newborns are extremely vulnerable, and something like oxygen deprivation, infection, or post maturity (the pregnancy lasting longer than it should) can have devastating effects on a child. When fetal distress is not treated immediately, potential side effects and ramifications might include permanent brain damage, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays. This is why monitoring a baby for fetal distress and acting quickly to treat the distress is of critical importance. 

Potential treatment options for fetal distress depend upon the cause of the fetal distress but include things such as repositioning the mother, giving the mother oxygen or IV fluids, performing an emergency Cesarean section, and more. 

What to do if Your Child Has Suffered a Birth Injury

Not all cases of fetal distress can be prevented or effectively treated — even when a healthcare provider acts within the standard of care. But many cases of fetal distress can be prevented or effectively treated. If your child has suffered a birth injury as a result of fetal distress that you suspect might not have occurred with better monitoring or treatment, you may have a medical malpractice case. While taking legal action can be emotional and difficult, scheduling a free consultation with an experienced birth injury lawyer in Ohio can offer valuable answers you need to tough questions about your rights and options. Remember to act quickly; the statute of limitations on your right to recovery will only allow you to pursue compensation for a limited time.