Failure to Timely Deliver During Fetal Distress

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The birth of a baby is a much anticipated and celebrated event.  However, there are occasions when serious problems arise during labor and delivery, and medical doctors, nurses, and staff need to respond in a timely manner. Fetal distress occurs when a baby’s oxygen supply is compromised in the uterus or during the labor and delivery process.  Approximately 25 of 100 births can have complications due to fetal distress.

Symptoms that a baby may be in distress can include:

  • a drop in the fetus’ heart rate
  • a decrease or notable change in the baby’s movement in the uterus
  • a presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid during the labor or delivery (Meconium are the baby’s first stools, made up of cellular debris, mucus and bile.)

The baby should be monitored carefully during the labor and delivery process for symptoms of distress.  If these symptoms arise, healthcare providers should react immediately to minimize fetal distress.  The following actions may be taken:

  • adjusting the mother to lay on her left side to reduce pressure on the fetus
  • increased monitoring of both the baby and the mother
  • supplying the mother with oxygen
  • monitoring for a prolapsed umbilical cord
  • increasing intravenous (IV) fluids
  • prompt delivery of the baby by forceps or vacuum extractor
  • performing a Caesarian section (C-section)

If a doctor or medical provider delays delivery or is unaware of fetal distress, fetal hypoxia can occur. Fetal hypoxia means that the baby is not receiving adequate oxygen.  Anoxia is the complete deprivation of oxygen.  If a baby is deprived of oxygen it can result in a wide range of health problems for the baby, some of which are minor and treatable; however, serious consequences may include:

  • brain injury
  • cerebral palsy
  • cortical blindness
  • mental retardation
  • autism
  • developmental delays and learning disabilities
  • stillbirth

It is critical that the medical professional (doctor and/or nurse) respond to signs of fetal distress quickly and professionally.  However, lapses in medical standards of care do occur during childbirth.  For instance, potential problems arise when fetal heart monitoring (FHM) is not used during labor, or it is used, but the medical staff is not trained to correctly read/interpret fetal heart monitoring (FHM) strips.  The doctor may not be present or may not be told of the fetal distress, or the doctor may be reluctant to deliver the baby by c-section

A child’s birth is a monumental and momentous milestone, and it is important for doctors, nurses and medical professionals to make the occasion as safe as possible.  Should complications arise, a doctor must react to fetal distress with the utmost concern and a medically sound approach.  If you feel that the birth of your child was compromised by a failure to properly respond to fetal distress, then you may contact the author, Brett Oppenheimer, PLLC, at or by clicking on the above link.

From the author: Brett H. Oppenheimer, PLLC
This article is provided for informational purposes only. If you need legal advice or representation,
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