AJOG: The physiology of intrapartum fetal compromise at term


Uterine contractions in labor result in a 60% reduction in uteroplacental perfusion, causing transient fetal and placental hypoxia. A healthy term fetus with a normally developed placenta is able to accommodate this transient hypoxia by activation of the peripheral chemoreflex, resulting in a reduction in oxygen consumption and a centralization of oxygenated blood to critical organs, namely the heart, brain, and adrenals. Providing there is adequate time for placental and fetal reperfusion between contractions, these fetuses will be able to withstand prolonged periods of intermittent hypoxia and avoid severe hypoxic injury. However, there exists a cohort of fetuses in whom abnormal placental development in the first half of pregnancy results in failure of endovascular invasion of the spiral arteries by the cytotrophoblastic cells and inadequate placental angiogenesis. This produces a high-resistance, low-flow circulation predisposing to hypoperfusion, hypoxia, reperfusion injury, and oxidative stress within the placenta. Furthermore, this renders the placenta susceptible to fluctuations and reduction in uteroplacental perfusion in response to external compression and stimuli (as occurs in labor), further reducing fetal capillary perfusion, placing the fetus at risk of inadequate gas/nutrient exchange. This placental dysfunction predisposes the fetus to intrapartum fetal compromise. In the absence of a rare catastrophic event, intrapartum fetal compromise occurs as a gradual process when there is an inability of the fetal heart to respond to the peripheral chemoreflex to maintain cardiac output. This may arise as a consequence of placental dysfunction reducing pre-labor myocardial glycogen stores necessary for anaerobic metabolism or due to an inadequate placental perfusion between contractions to restore fetal oxygen and nutrient exchange. If the hypoxic insult is severe enough and long enough, profound multiorgan injury and even death may occur. This review provides a detailed synopsis of the events that can result in placental dysfunction, how this may predispose to intrapartum fetal hypoxia, and what protective mechanisms are in place to avoid hypoxic injury.

Click here to read the full article.

Reference: Jessica M. Turner, MBChB MRCOG, Murray D. Mitchell, FRCOG DPhil(Oxon), and Sailesh S. Kumar, FRCOG FRANZCOG DPhil(Oxon) CMFM. The physiology of intrapartum fetal compromise at term. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Jan 2020, 222 (1); p 17-26. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2019.07.032