Who is at risk?> A woman who has been diagnosed with certain pregnancy complications has a greater likelihood of delivering a baby who suffers from fetal distress. “[The babies of] women who are post-term or who have high blood pressure, diabetes, preeclampsia or toxemia of pregnancy are at higher risk,” says Patrick Urban, M.D., an obstetrician in Albuquerque, N.M. Use of the induction drug Pitocin can also cause the baby’s heart rate to slow, especially if the mother is given a large dose, according to ACOG, but careful monitoring during labor can help prevent serious problems.
In many cases of fetal distress, doctors have plenty of time to discuss the situation and the options. However, fetal distress sometimes occurs abruptly—when the placenta is tearing away from the uterine wall or the uterus is rupturing, for example. In these scenarios, there is no time for discussion: Doctors have only minutes to get the baby out to avoid fetal brain damage or even death. Fortunately, such emergencies are rare, but when there’s any possibility of something going seriously wrong, doctors wisely tend to err on the side of caution.
Because so much subjectivity is involved in defining fetal distress, a pregnant woman should ask her physician exactly how he diagnoses it and determines when to intervene by performing a Cesarean. Says Urban: “I encourage women to talk to their doctor as they near their due date about the chance that their baby will suffer from distress and how the situation will be handled.”