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Birth trauma: what you need to know

Shine Lawyers | Chloe Heterick | Shine Lawyers

Written by:
Chloe Heterick
Senior Solicitor

Giving birth is one of the most challenging experiences a woman will go through and this is only exacerbated when complications arise. When childbirth results in a physical or psychological injury it is called birth trauma.

Many women who suffer from birth trauma injuries feel isolated and alone, but it is important to realise that birth trauma is not as rare as you may think. In Australia, approximately one in three women experience some form of birth trauma during childbirth.

Who does birth trauma impact?

Birth trauma is often associated with serious injuries and long-term damage to the newborn child, for example brain injuries or cerebral palsy. However, the most common form of birth trauma is a serious physical injury or wound to the mother who gave birth. Birth trauma can also manifest as a psychological injury to the mother or partner.

Common injuries from birth trauma include:

  • Forceps or instrumental trauma
  • Perineal tears
  • Pelvic fractures
  • C-section wounds and infections
  • Pelvic floor muscle damage
  • Injuries to the newborn, including oxygen deprivation or head injury resulting in brain injury or cerebral palsy, brachial plexus injury, infection, broken bones or fractures
  • Fatal injury to the mother or newborn baby
  • Psychological injuries, including post-natal depression, postpartum stress disorder and nervous shock injuries

Serious physical injuries to the mother can sometimes result from issues with continuity of care (i.e. multiple nurses and doctors) and lack of autonomy or informed consent about procedures during childbirth - these errors can have long-lasting impacts.

Symptoms of birth trauma can include:

  • Ongoing abdominal or back pain
  • Urinary incontinence and other bladder issues
  • Difficulties and pain during intercourse
  • Pain at the site of a tear
  • Pelvic floor laxity or pelvic organ prolapse
  • Fertility issues
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Embarrassment and lack of self-confidence
  • Fear of giving birth again

What to do if you if you have suffered from birth trauma

  1. Seek professional treatment: If you are suffering from birth trauma, the most important step is to get the appropriate treatment for you or your child. You may need to seek professional treatment or advice from your GP or a specialist such as; a gynaecologist; fertility specialist; urologist; psychologist; pelvic health physiotherapist; or paediatrician.

  2. Ask your hospital to explain what happened: It may help to reach out to your hospital to obtain details about what happened so that you can better understand why your injury occurred. Although it can be painful to relive the experience, it may help you and your lawyer to understand whether medical negligence may have occurred.

  3. Consider joining a birth trauma support group: Mothers who suffer from birth trauma can sometimes experience feelings of shame and failure because of the idea that “birth should be a beautiful experience”. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of birth trauma, it is important to know that there are several resources and support groups available.

The Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA) provides resources on their website to assist those suffering from birth trauma to understand what they are going through. The ABTA also lists a variety support options, including peer and group support services, mental health support services and treatment, and services specific to partners and family.

What are my legal options?

Injuries as a result of birth trauma can be wide-ranging with serious consequences that may lead to longstanding physical and psychological impacts.

It is important to know that there are also a number of legal options available to you if you have suffered birth trauma as a result of negligence. Consider whether the below options are right for you:

  • You can make a complaint to your State’s Health Ombudsman or the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency
  • You can talk to a specialist lawyer about your options. Whilst compensation cannot restore yours or your child’s health, it can help provide you with services and funding that mean you or your child can lead a better quality of life with as much independence as possible
  • In circumstances where you have lost a loved one due to birth trauma, you may be able to bring a claim for the dependants who are left behind or for a psychological injury sustained, if it was a direct result of the death

Shine Lawyers – we’re here to help

If you believe you or a loved one has suffered as a result of birth trauma, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. Get in touch with Shine’s expert team of birth trauma lawyers for an obligation-free consultation to find out your options.

Written by Chloe Heterick. Last modified: January 27, 2021.

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