Birth is a very personal and unique female experience. A difficult birth can be incredibly traumatising for a mother. Women can experience birth trauma regardless of whether it’s a vaginal or caesarean birth. Or whether the intervention was planned or not. A traumatic birth can affect the mother’s psychological and physical health and their ability to bond with their newborn. They may also have trouble recovering from their experience. In the wake of Birth Trauma Awareness Week (1 to 8 July), Amber Wang, Senior Associate with Snedden Hall & Gallop Lawyers, discusses your options after a traumatic birth.

What is birth trauma?

Thankfully, the mortality rate associated with birth in Australia is low by world standards, but childbirth remains a risky business. The Australasian Birth Trauma Association (ABTA) has found that 1 in 3 mothers have experienced a traumatic birth, and that 1 in 4 first-time mothers suffer from significant injuries as a result of childbirth.
Women can experience birth trauma through many circumstances, including:

  • emergency deliveries or unplanned caesarean sections
  • substandard or negligent treatment by hospital staff
  • insufficient pain relief
  • high levels of medical intervention
  • loss of dignity and control, including feeling medical staff are not listening to their wishes or concerns
  • stillbirth or injury to the baby during birth.

Birth trauma can result in physical injuries, psychological injuries or, not uncommonly, a combination of both:

  • Physical trauma can lead to women having difficulty returning to work and exercise; relationship issues; and lifestyle restrictions. This trauma can include damage to the pelvic floor muscles or abdomen and pelvic organ prolapse or tears.
  • Physical trauma and the feelings women experience can lead to postnatal anxiety, depression or other stress-related disorders such as PTSD.

However, many mothers suffer silently as they expect birth to be a painful process. And people often remind them that they will soon forget the trauma and are lucky to have a healthy baby.

What do I need to know or do?

How a women decides to, or needs to, give birth can promote highly emotive opinions. However, healthcare professionals are required to fully inform patients about risks and benefits before childbirth. Women in labour need to feel empowered to ask for that information and, if necessary, to question the decisions of their healthcare providers.
If you have suffered physical or psychological injuries following childbirth, your first step should be to make an appointment with your GP or gynaecologist to assess your health and wellbeing.
If you consider that your healthcare provider breached their duty of care to you during your birth experience, and this caused you to suffer from a physical or psychological injury, you may be able to pursue a medical negligence claim.

What is medical negligence?

If a health professional has breached their duty to take reasonable care of you as their patient, there may be a claim for medical negligence. Because of the specialised and technical skills held by healthcare professionals, and the often unpredictable or challenging situations they must navigate when providing healthcare services, expert evidence is usually required to confirm that the professional’s actions or inactions did in fact amount to negligence.
A medical negligence claim is designed to compensate you financially for your pain and suffering, loss of income and superannuation, and the cost of medical treatment or rehabilitation, and any care and assistance you may require as a result of the negligence of your healthcare provider.
There are time limits that apply to commencing a medical negligence claim in the ACT, and a strict three-year limitation period after which a claim is statute-barred.

Snedden Hall & Gallop can assist you

More women are choosing to explore legal options after sustaining birth trauma due to the negligence of their healthcare providers. If you need to obtain advice about a compensation claim for birth trauma you have experienced in the ACT, please contact us on (02) 6285 8000 or by email. You can see details of our compensation representation here.

1– 8 July 2018 was Birth Trauma Awareness Week.