What are the Signs of Fetal Distress?

Throughout pregnancy and labor, the doctors, nurses, and other health care providers involved should monitor the development of the fetus for normal, healthy development.

Typically, they look for:

  • A normal baseline (120-160);
  • Moderate Fetal Bradycardia (100-120), with good variability;
  • Good beat-to-beat variability (STV);
  • Accelerations;
  • Heart Rate increases by 15-25 bpm over baseline;
  • Increase persists for 15-25 seconds;
  • Early decelerations; and
  • Mild Variable Decelerations

as indicators that the fetus is healthy, and is not experiencing any form of distress during pregnancy or labor.

If the mother receives oxytocin, has a difficult labor, or is post-term, it may be appropriate to have a heightened concern that the pregnancy has become high-risk.

In addition, warning signs may appear suggesting that an unborn baby may be suffering from fetal distress. These warning signs include:

  • Fetal Tachycardia (>160);
  • Moderate Fetal Bradycardia (100-120) with lost variability ;
  • Absent beat-to-beat variability (STV);
  • Marked Fetal Bradycardia (90-100 bpm);
  • Moderate Variable Decelerations;
  • Variable Decelerations; and/or
  • Early decelerations and slow return baseline.

In certain cases, there may also be indicators that the unborn baby is in distress and requires immediate delivery. Such indicators include:

  • Meconium-stained amniotic fluid;
  • Fetal Tachycardia with loss of variability;
  • Prolonged marked Fetal Bradycardia with less than 90 bpm;
  • Late decelerations;
  • Severe Variable Decelerations;
  • Fetal Heart Rate drops below 70 beats per minute; and/or
  • Deceleration persists for 1 minute or more.

Your doctor, nurse, and other health care providers involved in caring for the mother and child during the pregnancy and delivery, should immediately respond to any sign of fetal distress. In the presence of one or more of the above warning signs, this means commencing proper monitoring of the fetus and when appropriate, beginning treatment of the mother and fetus to eliminate the complication that is causing fetal distress. If the treatment fails, or one or more of the signs that

indicate the need for cesarean become present, labor must be immediately induced through cesarean to prevent injury to mother and child. The failure to take these steps may amount to substandard medical care and constitute negligence.