Foetal distress is a condition that occurs when a baby starts to encounter difficulties during its birth. It is usually a warning sign that the baby is severely fatigued, or is suffering from a lack of oxygen.
When the uterus contracts, it cuts off the supply of oxygen to the placenta. If the placenta does not hold enough oxygen in reserve, this can result in a shortage of oxygen to the baby which then results in distress.
Foetal distress reveals itself in a number of ways, with the most common signs comprising the presence of meconium in the woman's waters; changes in the baby's heart rate; and a reduction in the movements made by the baby.
Meconium is the baby's first bowel movement and usually occurs shortly after birth. It is a thick, tar like substance that can be black to green in colour. It is common for a baby to excrete meconium if it is in distress, and this will tinge the woman's waters a green colour.
During labour, the baby's heart rate will be monitored. If there is an increase in the baby's heart rate, or a decrease in the heart rate, this is a clear warning of distress. A decrease in foetal movement is also attributable to foetal distress.
If distress is evident, the woman is likely to need an episiotomy, ventouse or forceps in order to give birth to the baby as quickly as possible. In an extremely urgent situation, a caesarean section will be performed.