As you are nearing the end of the 9-month journey, you may want to prepare yourself for the potential “what ifs” that could occur during your labor and delivery. Although you cannot prepare for the unknown you can still have a general understanding of what could happen. For everyone reading this article, we hope for a safe and easy labor.


Fetal distress occurs when the baby experiences trouble during labor and/or delivery. The trouble may be caused by distress in the mother or by something in the womb.  For instance, if the mother blood pressure spikes or drops, this may affect the baby. Fetal distress, if prolonged, may cause complications with the baby. These complications could result in diagnoses such as: hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS), and other conditions.


Fetal distress can be evaluated with a medical device called the electronic fetal heart monitor. This device allows for the continuous monitoring and recording of the heartbeat of the baby and the contractions of the mother. The doctors and nurses monitoring the device will be alerted if the baby begins showing signs of distress. These signs could be the baby’s heart rate moving suddenly and prolongedly far from the baseline heartrate in either direction.  

The benefit to the electronic fetal heart monitor is once distress is realized, doctors and nurses can work to minimize the stress on the baby. The medical staff can do things such as: turn mom on her side, give mom medication in her IV or give mom oxygen. These methods can help tremendously to slow or eliminate the stress on the baby.


For many moms, the interventions help decrease the stress that the baby is experiencing. For others, interventions may not be enough. In those situations, doctors must evaluate the mom and the baby’s progression to decide whether an emergency c-section needs to take place. The doctors and nurses are trained to not only evaluate the external symptoms of the mother (length of labor, cervix diameter, heart rate, etc.) but also the baby’s ability to tolerate a vaginal delivery.

When evaluating the baby’s ability to tolerate a vaginal birth, the doctors review the fetal heart tracings. They check for bradycardia (drop in baby’s heart rate and baseline), tachycardia (increase in heart rate and baseline), variability (rise and fall in the fetal heart rate of more than 2 cycles per minute) and decelerations (decreases in fetal heart rate below the baseline). Read more HERE.

When taking all factors into consideration, doctors can either move to a c-section or monitor the mom more closely to try to continue with a safe vaginal delivery. The goal is to make sure the baby and mom have enough blood and oxygen circulating. If the baby goes too long without blood and/or oxygen, he or she may be at risk for hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy or other oxygen and blood deprivation disorders.

Thanks for reading, your friends at HIE Resource Place.