Fetal distress occurs when a baby’s health is compromised while it is still in the uterus. It can happen during labour and delivery or even set in before labour has started. If not caught and treated in time, it can lead to serious injury or the death of the baby.
Like many health crises, fetal distress is accompanied by symptoms and signs that you and the medical personnel on your healthcare team should be watching for throughout your pregnancy. In this article, we’ll review the most common signs and how a birth injury lawyer can help if your doctor’s failure to recognize them harms your child.
Abnormal Heart Rate
The normal baseline for a healthy fetus heart rate is between 110 and 160 beats per minute. Any deviation, especially for extended periods of time, may be a sign that something is wrong.
Tachycardia is a condition that occurs if the fetal heart rate goes above 160 beats per minute for extended periods of time (usually more than 10 minutes). Since it may be a sign of fetal distress, further investigation is necessary.
Bradycardia, which occurs when the fetal heart rate drops below 110 beats per minute, usually means that your baby is not getting enough oxygen. It is a known indicator of fetal distress and should always be investigated by your healthcare provider.
Any dip below the baseline fetal heart rate is called a deceleration. When they occur during the early stages of delivery and mirror the mother’s contractions, the decrease in heart rate is believed to be caused by head compression during contractions. Obstetrical literature has traditionally treated these early decelerations as normal, but newer studies suggest that no deceleration is totally harmless and that prolonged or excessive head compression may harm the baby.
Variable decelerations occur when the fetal heart rate drops more than 15 beats per minute for anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes. They appear during labour and are thought to be caused by umbilical cord compression. There are two types:
- Uncomplicated: With uncomplicated variable decelerations, there is an initial spike in the baby’s heart rate, followed by a dip and then another spike before the heart rate returns to normal. If this pattern is repetitive, it may be a sign of intermittent lack of oxygen and other labour-related difficulties.
- Complicated: These decelerations may have a loss of variability, occur in two phases, or take a longer time to return to the baseline. They are extremely concerning since they are known to be a sign of fetal distress.
When the amniotic sac ruptures, the fluid is usually a clear colour. If it is green or brown, fetal meconium, which is normally passed after birth as the baby’s first bowel movement, may be present. Meconium in amniotic fluid may be associated with fetal distress and your healthcare provider should immediately investigate further.
Decrease in Fetal Movement
You can expect to start feeling your baby moving in the womb during your second trimester. By the third trimester, you’re going to be feeling some punches and kicks! At this point, many expecting mothers start performing a ‘kick count.’ If you notice a decrease or abnormal change in the baby’s normal movement pattern, notify your healthcare provider immediately, as it can be a sign of fetal distress.
What is ‘Non-Reassuring Fetal Status?’
Non-reassuring fetal status is a term used to describe suspected lack of oxygen to the baby and is often used instead of ‘fetal distress.’ It covers concerning conditions such as reduced fetal movement, changes in fetal heart patterns, the presence of meconium-stained fluid, and fetal growth restriction. Many healthcare providers prefer using this term to describe any clinical interpretation of your baby’s well-being.
Regardless of the term used, your medical team should ensure that you understand the conditions involved and advise you immediately when any of them suggest that your baby may be at risk.
How Do I Know if My Medical Team Missed Signs of Fetal Distress?
Birth injuries are an especially complex division of medical malpractice. The only way to confirm that your baby’s injuries were preventable is to carefully investigate what happened and look into the medical and legal issues involved. This is where an experienced birth injury lawyer can provide the help you need.
If you and your family have questions or concerns regarding the medical care you received during pregnancy or the birth of your child, a BILA lawyer can advise you about your legal rights and options and provide the legal guidance you need to pursue a malpractice claim against the health professionals involved.
How Can a Birth Injury Lawyer Help Me?
A medical professional who caused your child’s birth injury due to negligence may be liable for damages in a medical malpractice claim. Compensation can cover future medical procedures your child may require, as well as developmental, cognitive, and physical therapy to help them adjust to their disability. However, you must first prove that the doctor or nurse was negligent. For example:
- Did they fail to respond appropriately to instances of fetal tachycardia, bradycardia, or another major sign of distress?
- Did they miss the warning signs of umbilical cord compression, such as reduced heart rate and lack of fetal movement?
The legal team at the Birth Injury Lawyers’ Alliance of Canada (BILA) has years of experience representing families impacted by negligent medical professionals and will thoroughly investigate your child’s case. We will reach out to other medical providers to determine how your healthcare team should have responded in your case and collect medical records and reports to support your claim. We will also keep you informed and advised at every stage so that you are an active participant in the entire process.
Talk to a Birth Injury Lawyer Today
A doctor, midwife, or nurse who fails to engage in proper fetal monitoring could miss critical, life-threatening signs of distress. If this happens to you and your child, a birth injury lawyer at BILA can help you pursue compensation for improper treatment. Please contact us to discuss your options for pursuing a birth injury claim. We have offices across Canada, so no matter where you are, skilled and compassionate representation is available.
Susanne Raab is a lawyer at Pacific Medical Law, and an advocate for people living with disabilities. She has been selected for inclusion by her peers in Best Lawyers in Canada in the area of Medical Negligence and is recognized as a leading practitioner in the Canadian Legal Lexpert® Directory in medical malpractice. Susanne is also a Fellow of the Litigation Counsel of America, an honorary trial lawyer society whose membership is limited to less than one-half of one percent of North American lawyers, judges and scholars.