Fetal distress

Fetal distress refers to the presence of signs in a pregnant woman[1]before or during childbirththat suggest that the fetus may not be well. Because of its lack of precision, the term is eschewed in modern American obstetrics.[2]

Fetal distress

Signs and symptoms

Generally it is preferable to describe specific signs in lieu of declaring fetal distress that include:

Some of these signs are more reliable predictors of fetal compromise than others. For example, cardiotocography can give high false positive rates, even when interpreted by highly experienced medical personnel. Metabolic acidosis is a more reliable predictor, but is not always available.


There are many causes of "fetal distress" including:


Instead of referring to "fetal distress", current recommendations hold to look for more specific signs and symptoms, assess them, and take the appropriate steps to remedy the situation [2] through the implementation of intrauterine resuscitation.[3] Traditionally the diagnosis of "fetal distress" led the obstetrician to recommend rapid delivery by instrumental delivery or by caesarean section if vaginal delivery is not advised.


  1. Fetal+Distress at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  2. "Fetal Distress". American Pregnancy Association. August 2015. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  3. Simpson PhD, RNC, Kathleen Rice; Garite MD, Thomas (March 2011). "Intrauterine Resuscitation During Labor". Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology. 54 (1): 28–39. doi:10.1097/GRF.0b013e31820a062b.
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