In the past, Texas newborns who experienced fetal problems or asphyxia were often grouped together under the generic term “fetal distress.” However, this term does not give an accurate description of what the baby may be experiencing. The Committee on Obstetric Practice of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is recommending that the term fetal distress get replaced with non-reassuring fetal status.
Fetal distress is often used when a fetus is not receiving a sufficient amount of oxygen while in the womb or during labor. This is typically indicated by the use of a heart rate monitor. Fetal asphyxia is similarly defined as a baby who doesn’t receive adequate oxygen before, during or after labor. It can have multiple causes such as a knot in the baby’s umbilical cord, umbilical cord compression or lack of oxygen in the mother’s blood.
Pregnancies that present with fetal distress often occur due to an underlying condition in the fetus or mother. These conditions may include anemia, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, low levels of amniotic fluid or intrauterine growth retardation. The ACOG is recommending that obstetricians take note of an additional diagnosis that may describe the type of non-reassuring fetal status that is occurring.
Fetal distress, fetal asphyxia and non-reassuring fetal status can all have devastating effects on a newborn and mother. If not treated promptly, the baby may suffer lifelong disabilities, mental disorders and death. When a doctor doesn’t diagnose and treat a baby or mother in distress promptly, he or she may be considered negligent. For example, a doctor who failed to properly diagnose infant asphyxia may have committed medical malpractice. The parents could potentially file a civil suit to collect compensation for medical and compensatory damages.