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Traumatic birth and postnatal depression: impacts and support for parents


Written by:
Clare Eves
National Practice Leader - Medical Law

Bringing a new life into the world can be one of the most joy-filled events in one’s life. For many families however, it can be an exceptionally challenging and overwhelming experience. According to Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA), 1 in 7 new mums and 1 in 10 new dads in Australia experience postnatal depression every year.

For parents who have experienced a traumatic birth, navigating their journey with doctors, specialists and diagnoses can increase the risk of either parent suffering psychological and emotional harm. Birthing trauma that results in psychiatric harm for new parents can be brought on by:

  • Difficulty with the birth and delivery itself and/or an emergency surgical delivery;
  • Trauma during the delivery, such as a perineal tear, forceps injury, or internal muscle damage;
  • A traumatic birth due to the mother suffering a medical condition;
  • Injury to your baby resulting in death or serious harm;
  • Unforeseen medical complications with your baby that were not detected in utero.

Effects of traumatic birth on mother

Birth trauma has a profound impact on mothers and can cause serious secondary effects known as traumatic birth syndrome, which is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurring after childbirth. Struggling with the difficulties of a traumatic birth experience can also trigger conditions such as:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Psychosis
  • Perinatal depression
  • Anxiety

For new mums, this can involve feelings that last longer than a couple of weeks including very low mood, feeling a sense of great sadness, shame or hopelessness for the future, feeling irritable or on edge, feeling anxious or panicky, or more serious symptoms, such as flashbacks or feelings of self-harm.

If you’re struggling to cope, this is nothing to be ashamed of. Talking openly and honestly with someone who cares can help you process and in turn recover from your traumatic birth. Seek support from a trusted medical professional who can direct you to treatment options, resources, counselling and even methods of self-care. Looking after your physical and mental health should be a priority.

Postpartum depression in men

Depression, anxiety and psychiatric harm doesn’t just affect new mums – dads can experience it too. This can be brought on after witnessing their partner go through a difficult labour or in some instances, if your baby or partner is facing a life-threating condition from childbirth.

While some fathers may find it difficult talking about their emotional or mental state, reaching out for help - whether through family or a professional - is important, both for their personal and familial wellbeing.

Support services to help cope with a traumatic birth

Experiencing emotional trauma from a traumatic birth can feel isolating but it’s important to know you don’t have to go it alone. Help is available to support you through this challenging time and seeking it as early as possible is beneficial not just for you, but for your loved ones as well. It can lead to a faster recovery and help you get back to feeling like yourself again.

It may help to talk to a trusted health professional such as your GP, midwife, or maternal child health nurse at any stage about how you feel, or to ask for support from your friends and family. It is important to be honest about your feelings and to reach out for help when it is needed.

There are also many organisations that are here to support you such as Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA). Counsellors are available to talk through your challenges and feelings about your birth experience via PANDA’s National Helpline on 1300 726 306.

There are a number of legal options available if you have suffered psychiatric harm because of poor medical care during your pregnancy, in childbirth or during the immediate time thereafter. You may wish to consider whether the below options are helpful 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 lawyer about your options. Whilst compensation cannot restore your health, it can help provide you with funding for services, help and support.

Traumatic birth syndrome – client case study

Unfortunately, there are times where medical treatment administered throughout pregnancy, childbirth or after a baby is born, falls below the standard of care reasonably expected and results in significant harm or loss.

Shine Lawyers was recently entrusted to help a family who tragically lost their child as a result of inadequate health care provided during pregnancy by both an Obstetrician and hospital staff.

Medical professionals failed to recognise an unfolding problem of pre-eclampsia, resulting in the mother suffering HELLP (Haemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes, Low Platelet Count) Syndrome and requiring emergency surgery to deliver her baby. Due to the severity of the condition, their baby suffered severe oxygen deprivation and devastatingly died shortly after birth.

Through this time, the mother remained in a life-threatening state with organ failure and was placed in ICU. She survived but suffered a multitude of ongoing physical and psychiatric injuries from the trauma, while the baby’s father also suffered a severe psychiatric condition from the traumatic birth.

Both parents suffered profound impacts from the loss of their baby, which included difficulty sustaining relationships not only with friends and family, but also with each other. It shattered their ability to advance in their chosen carers and it changed their dream of raising a large family of their own.

Shine Lawyers’ Medical Law team supported this couple through the legal process and established that their heartbreaking situation could have been avoided had appropriate medical care been given.

Our team of experts successfully brought a medical negligence claim against the public hospital and private obstetrician’s insurance, working closely with the family to gather the necessary evidence to support their case.

It was during the time spent with this family that our Medical Law team was able to truly understand the impact this traumatic birth had on all aspects of their lives – including their future plans. While no amount of compensation could take the pain away, the awarded settlement funds will help them to access the help and support needed on their journey to healing.

Traumatic birth from medical negligence - how Shine Lawyers can help

At Shine Lawyers, our dedicated team of traumatic birth lawyers are here to support you if you or a loved one have suffered injuries from a birth due to poor medical care. We’ve had the privilege of helping families affected by traumatic births by guiding them through the legal process and helping them access the compensation needed to help with recovery. Contact us today for a confidential and obligation-free consultation to see if we can assist you and your family.

Written by Clare Eves. Last modified: November 5, 2020.

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