If a woman sustains injuries during childbirth, and these are caused or exacerbated by medical negligence, there will be grounds for a birth injury compensation claim. This ensures she is compensated for her physical, mental and financial damages.
Our medical negligence solicitors can advise whether you are entitled to make a birth injury claim.
Types of birth injuries to mother
Giving birth has always carried risks. In days gone by, childbirth was particularly dangerous for women, and maternal mortality was a very real possibility. Now, with the advances in medicine, these risks can be minimised or even eradicated altogether.
Nevertheless, there is still a chance that a woman will suffer an injury while giving birth. Some of these cannot be predicted or prevented. They are simply part and parcel of childbirth. Others, however, can be attributed to medical errors.
Some of the most common types of birth injuries to mothers include:
- Vaginal tears
- Post-partum haemorrhage
- Ruptured uterus
- Organ damage
- Episiotomy complications
If a woman has a vaginal delivery, there is a chance that she will sustain a vaginal tear – also known as a perineal tear. This happens when the vaginal opening cannot expand wide enough to allow the baby’s head and shoulders to pass through, causing the tissue to rip.
Perineal tears are classified according to the extent of damage. First degree tears are the most minor and only affect the outermost layer of skin. Second degree tears are a little deeper and involve the muscle around the vagina and anus. Third degree tears extend into the anal sphincter. Fourth degree tears are deeper still, affecting the anal canal and rectum.
There are certain factors that increase the risk of a vaginal tear. These include:
- First-time vaginal delivery
- Larger than average baby
- Induced labour
- Assisted delivery (forceps or ventouse)
- Long second stage of labour
- Shoulder dystocia – where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pubic bone
These risk factors cannot always be predicted. However, if there is any indication that a woman will sustain a serious perineal tear – for example, because she has a very large baby – then it may be preferable to perform a caesarean section instead.
If a vaginal tear does occur, medical practitioners must diagnose and treat it straightaway. This requires a doctor or midwife to perform an examination shortly after the delivery. If a tear is detected, it must be stitched together. Third and fourth degree tears should be repaired by a senior medical practitioner.
A post-partum haemorrhage (PPH) is abnormally heavy bleeding after childbirth. Some blood loss is to be expected in the weeks following birth, during which time the body expels the products of conception. But anything over 1,000ml is considered to be abnormal. Heavy bleeding within 24 hours of delivery is known as an immediate or primary PPH. Beyond 24 hours, it is known as a delayed or secondary PPH.
Post-partum haemorrhage is a much bigger risk factor in developing countries. Even so, women in Ireland do experience post-partum haemorrhages, particularly those who:
- Have a caesarean section
- Have an assisted delivery (forceps or ventouse)
- Have a long labour
- Are induced
- Have a large baby or multiple babies
- Suffer with high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia
- Experience a post-partum infection
Left untreated, a post-partum haemorrhage can be fatal. Medical practitioners must act quickly to control the bleeding and stabilise the patient’s condition.
Uterine rupture is when the uterus (womb) tears, causing the unborn baby to enter the mother’s abdomen. It is very rare, but when it does happen, it usually occurs during the very late stages of pregnancy or during labour. It is most common amongst women who are trying for a vaginal delivery, but who also have scar tissue on the uterus. Typically, this is because they have previously had a c-section or some other kind of abdominal trauma.
Risk factors of uterine rupture include:
- Vaginal birth after caesarean section
- Previous abdominal trauma
- Previous uterine rupture
- Multiple births
- Having had five or more children
- Induced labour
- Having a large baby
- An excess of amniotic fluid
Signs of a ruptured uterus include a drop in the baby’s heart rate, abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, amongst others. The problem must be diagnosed and treated immediately. This requires the baby to be delivered by way of emergency c-section. The tear should then be repaired or, if this is not possible, a hysterectomy performed. A failure to act in time could be fatal for both the mother and the baby.
A woman’s internal organs are at risk of damage during childbirth. As mentioned above, the uterus may rupture. It can also prolapse, which is when it slides down into the vaginal canal. This can affect a woman’s quality of life, causing pain and discomfort.
Fourth degree tears can extend into the rectum, limiting a woman’s ability to control the passing of stools and flatulence. Incontinence can have a devastating impact, damaging an individual’s personal and professional life.
The internal organs are particularly at risk during a c-section, which is considered major abdominal surgery. The bladder must be clamped down to prevent injury. After this, the uterus can be opened up and the baby delivered. There have been incidents in which safe surgical practices have not been followed, resulting in the patient suffering internal organ damage. One case in England even saw a baby be delivered through the mother’s bladder.
All women are at risk of developing an infection after childbirth, regardless of whether they have a vaginal delivery or a caesarean section. Such infections can develop in the genital tract, urinary tract, respiratory tract, or in a wound (such as a c-section scar). Because of this risk, antibiotics are often administered, especially to women who undergo a caesarean section.
If a post-partum infection does develop – also known as a puerperal infection – it must be treated with antibiotics straightaway. Otherwise, the patient’s recovery will be delayed and the outcome may even be less favourable. In serious cases, the infection can develop into maternal sepsis, a potentially fatal condition that leads to multi-organ failure.
An episiotomy is when the perineum is deliberately cut during a vaginal delivery. Therefore, it is not necessarily a ‘birth injury’, as it is a deliberate act. Nevertheless, an episiotomy can lead to complications if it is not performed and repaired properly. In fact, a poorly performed episiotomy can contribute towards a perineal tear. A substandard repair can cause pain and discomfort, potentially on a permanent basis.
Other illnesses and birth injuries to mother
This is not an exhaustive list of the potential injuries a woman can experience during birth. There are other injuries, illnesses and conditions that can arise before, during and after labour. This includes placental abruption and pre-eclampsia, amongst others.
Are birth injuries to mother negligent?
The birth of a baby should be a joyous occasion. No one wants it to be marred by a painful – and potentially life-threatening – injury or illness. When this does happen, it is of course upsetting for all concerned. But does it amount to medical negligence? The answer is that it all depends on the circumstances.
Some birth injuries cannot be prevented or predicted – they are just a natural part of childbirth. One example is perineal tears. It is not always obvious who will sustain a vaginal tear. Because of this, medical professionals cannot always be held responsible when they happen. But what medical practitioners must do is to diagnose and treat the injury. The same can be said of complications such as uterine rupture, post-partum haemorrhage and infection.
On other occasions, the actions of medical practitioners (or their lack of action) will lead to a birth injury. This includes an obstetrician who fails to follow the correct surgical procedures during a c-section, causing the patient to sustain internal organ damage.
Ultimately, medical professionals must provide a reasonable standard of care. This is judged against what another reasonably competent obstetrician, gynaecologist or midwife would have done in a similar situation.
For example, if a midwife fails to diagnose a third degree tear, the question that must be asked is: would another reasonably competent midwife also have failed to detect the injury? If the answer is yes, the injury is not negligent – it is simply an unfortunate consequence of childbirth. Yet if the answer is no, then the treating midwife has failed to provide a reasonable standard of care. This amounts to medical negligence.
Birth injury claims
If you have been harmed by medical negligence, you are entitled to pursue a claim for birth injury compensation. No doubt you would rather turn back the clock and change the way in which your birth unfolded. While a medical negligence claim cannot undo what happened, it can provide you with a sense of justice. It also provides you with financial redress for your damages, including your:
- Physical damages
- Mental damages
- Loss of quality of life
- Financial losses, both past and future
- Care, which may have been provided by your loved ones
It may also be comforting to know that by making a medical negligence claim, you are helping to improve medical practices. The hospital in which you gave birth can learn from their mistakes, ensuring other women do not suffer a similar fate.
Birth injury statute of limitations
If you are thinking about making a birth injury compensation claim, it is better to act sooner rather than later. This is because according to the birth injury statute of limitations, a claim must be made within two years of the injury. If you miss this deadline, your claim will be statute-barred. In other words, you will be unable to claim compensation, even if you have clearly been the victim of medical error.
Two years may sound like a long time, but birth injury compensation claims need to be thoroughly investigated. Your medical negligence solicitor will need to obtain your medical records, commission an expert medical report and gather evidence to show the full extent of your financial losses. Therefore, we recommend that you contact our solicitors shortly after suffering your birth injury. That way, you can rest assured that you will not fall foul of the birth injury statute of limitations, and that you can claim the compensation to which you are legally entitled.
Speak to a birth injury claims solicitor
It can be difficult to know exactly whether you have been subject to medical negligence – particularly when you are looking after a newborn baby and recovering from childbirth. However, you probably have a suspicion that the care you received while giving birth fell below a reasonable standard. If so, please contact our medical negligence solicitors. We can discuss the circumstances of your birth injuries with you, advising whether you have grounds for a claim. We can help you access the birth injury compensation you deserve.
Birth injuries to mother – make an enquiry
For a no obligation enquiry with a specialist medical negligence solicitor, please complete our online enquiry form, or phone us on 01 872 3143 today.