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When Childbirth Goes Tragically Wrong

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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There are few women who do not fear childbirth, after all, less than 200 years ago giving birth constituted a major threat to a woman’s life.  Childbirth, however, remains highly dangerous for women in developing countries[1].  Thanks to advances in medical care, death in childbirth is mercifully rare in the UK; however, severe birth injuries to the mother can and do still occur.

In a recent Guardian article, Leah McLaren described how she could not forget the ‘horror’ of her son’s birth[2].  Not only was her son (now a healthy eight-month-old) born semi-conscious, Ms McLaren had internal and external tearing as well as an episiotomy

“As one doctor later put it: “It’s like a truck drove through your pelvic floor.” I was given transfusions for blood loss and paracetamol for the pain, which didn’t help much.”

Over the following months, Ms McLaren wrote, it became clear that she “wasn’t bouncing back”.  An appointment with a gynaecologist revealed she had a moderate-to-severe case of a condition called cystocele, otherwise known as a prolapse of the bladder.  Her vaginal wall was so severely damaged giving birth that her bladder was spilling into her vagina.

Moderate to severe cases of cystocele require surgery to correct[3].

Undiagnosed birth injuries

In 2015, researchers from the University of Michigan[4] performed MRI scans on a select group of women seven weeks after had have given birth.  Astonishingly, 29% had fractures in their pubic bones, of which they were unaware, and 41% had undiagnosed tearing and major damage to their pelvic floor.

According to the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, almost a quarter of women experience pain during sexual intercourse 18 months after having a baby.

If left undiagnosed, damage during childbirth can lead to future complications - a major reason why women claim compensation for personal injuries caused in pregnancy and/or labour.

How much does the mother matter?

The comments left by members of the public in response to Ms McLaren’s article make striking reading.  In page after page, many women report having suffered often deliberating childbirth injuries, some stating they will never have another child following their traumatic childbirth experience.

Ms McLaren comments that accessing counselling services for childbirth trauma or injuries is difficult and the NHS and NCT offer very little in terms of support.  Private therapy is available, but only for those who can afford it.

Ms McLaren remarks:

“There is a reasonable explanation for this apparent state of institutional denial. Birth trauma and injury conflict with the NHS’s dominant maternity care ethos that “natural” births are safer and more empowering for women. This despite the fact that the UK has one of the highest infant mortality rates in western Europe and, according to the NHS Litigation Authority, pays out hundreds of millions in maternity negligence claims each year”.

Many women who commented on the article said they felt like medical professionals had treated them as a vessel rather than a human being during pregnancy and labour.  Maureen Treadwell, chair of the Birth Trauma Association, founded in response to the number of women she knew who’d been refused pain relief during labour and ended up traumatised by the experience, told Ms McLaren, “If a man underwent dental surgery having begged for anaesthetic and not received any, we’d recommend therapy – yet if the same thing happens to a woman we tell her she’s a good girl, well done. It’s madness” she said[5].

Claiming compensation for childbirth injury

For women who have suffered a birth injury, compensation can provide a way to pay for rehabilitation and private counselling.  Health professionals have a duty to ensure reasonable skill and care is taken when attending childbirth. If complications arise, the mother should be examined thoroughly and check for injuries which may not be immediately apparent. 

New mums need to be fit and strong to cope with the incredible change a baby will bring to their lives.  It is therefore imperative that the mother’s mental and physical health are taken care of with the same level of attention and care that is provided for the baby.

Contact our childbirth injury and compensation claims solicitors today

At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, have the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to claim compensation for an injury sustained in childbirth or other medical negligence incident. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and treated with utmost sensitivity.







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