Fetal distress: Compromise of a fetus during the antepartum period (before labor) or intrapartum period (during the birth process). The term fetal distress is commonly used to describe fetal hypoxia (low oxygen levels in the fetus), which can result in fetal damage or death if it is not reversed or if the fetus is not promptly delivered. Fetal distress can be detected via abnormal slowing of labor, changes in fetal heart rate, the presence of meconium (dark green fecal material from the fetus) or other abnormal substances in the amniotic fluid, or fetal monitoring with an electronic device that shows a fetal scalp pH of less than 7.2.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016