Medical Negligence

Childbirth Injury Claims

Childbirth Injury Claims

Birth Injury Lawyers

Thousands of women each year give birth to babies all over Australia. Often, what should be a joyful and happy experience for mothers and fathers ends up being a very traumatic experience as result of negligence on the part of their obstetrician, midwife, hospital staff or other medical professionals responsible for provision of antenatal care, labour and delivery of their baby. This often results in injuries to the mother, baby or both.

In addition, thousands of babies are born with brain injuries (resulting in cerebral palsy) and birth defects, leaving parents wondering whether their condition was related to something that happened due to the medical care they received during the antenatal period of their pregnancy or labour or delivery.

Many parents wonder whether the birth defect could have been avoided with the exercise of reasonable skill and care and provision of appropriate advice, testing and diagnosis on the part of their obstetrician, general practitioner, family doctor or hospital department who were responsible for provision of their medical care.

If you believe that you suffered a birth injury, or think that your labour or delivery may have been mismanaged, or a mistake was made during your care, and you or your child suffered a birth injury or was born with a birth defect, you may be able to claim compensation for medical negligence.

Birth injury claims fall into the following 3 categories:

  • Birth injuries to mothers.
  • Birth injuries to babies.
  • Birth defects.

Our team of specialist medical negligence lawyers are experienced in acting for mothers, fathers and their babies in medical negligence compensation claims involving birth injuries. We understand the devastating effects of having suffered an injury during pregnancy, labour or delivery or experienced the loss of your loved baby, because of negligent medical care on the part of your obstetrician or midwife.

We’ll be here for you every step of the way guiding you through the process in your medical negligence claim. We have the expert knowledge, expertise and a proven track record needed to obtain outstanding results in all types of medical negligence compensation claims involving birth injuries to mothers and babies as well as birth defects.

We’ll act for you in your birth injury claim on a no win, no fee basis with no upfront costs. See our why choose us page for many more reasons as to why so many Australians choose Longton Compensation Lawyers over anyone else for their birth injury medical negligence compensation claims.

What factors increase the risk of birth injuries to mothers and babies?

  • Large babies of birthweight over 4,000 grams.
  • Prematurity or babies that are born before 37 weeks. Premature babies have more fragile bodies and may be more easily injured during birth.
  • The mother’s pelvis may not be adequate for the baby to be born vaginally. In such circumstances, a caesarean section (c-section) may need to be performed to minimise the risk of injury to the mother or baby.Dystocia, which is a slow and difficult labour birth. An example of this is when contractions are not strong enough to move the baby through the birth canal.
  • Prolonged labour or abnormally long labour.
  • Placental abruption or placental bleeding.
  • Abnormal birthing presentation. An example of this is a buttocks or feet first (i.e. breech presentation) delivery.
  • Umbilical cord prolapse resulting in loss of oxygen flow to the baby through the umbilical cord.
  • Being pregnant with twins, triplets, or other multiples.
  • Maternal obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Devices or birth assisting tools like vacuum or forceps used to deliver the baby.

Birth Injuries to Mothers

Childbirth related injuries to mothers can be devastating and can have long term effect on the mother’s and father’s physical and mental wellbeing, personal relationships, careers and their families for the rest of their lives.

Birth injuries to the mother can occur during any pregnancy due to negligence or mistakes made by doctors, midwives and nurses even if the mother has no risk factors and the pregnancy is deemed to be normal or low risk.

If you believe that you may have suffered a birth injury or think that your labour and delivery may have been mismanaged or a mistake was made during your care by your obstetrician, midwife, or hospital staff you may be entitled to make a medical negligence claim for compensation.

When can I claim compensation for birthing injuries to the mother?

The most common causes of birthing injuries to the mother result from:

  • Use of birth assisting tools without consent or using them incorrectly or improperly or refusing to deliver the baby by way of a caesarean section (c-section)

In Australia, maternity units were previously and still are encouraged to promote vaginal births to lower the c-section rates.

There has, however, been a shift in recent years in how obstetricians, midwifes and hospitals view planned caesarean sections. It is now considered to be reasonable to accept a mother’s request for a caesarean section as a mode of delivery of her baby and there is no, to little reason, why an obstetrician, a midwife or a hospital should refuse a mother from choosing a planned c-section unless there are contraindications to a c-section being performed.

Forceps are assistive delivery tools that resemble a pair of large tongs. They are applied to the baby’s head to pull the baby out of the birth canal. Doctors use forceps to assist with delivery if a baby is stuck in the birth canal or is showing signs of fetal distress. Vacuum (ventouse) extraction, on the other hand, attaches a soft cup to the baby’s head to pull the baby out of the birth canal.

Forceps or vacuum are sometimes used with too much force, with improper application or incorrect pulling resulting in significant maternal injuries or injuries to the mother or baby. Many of these injuries are preventable with the exercise of reasonable skill and care.

  • Failure to identify vaginal or anal tears or tearing during childbirth or improperly repairing vaginal or anal tears

About 9 out of 10 women suffer perineal tears during childbirth when the skin between the vagina and anus stretches. The types of tearing suffered by mothers during childbirth includes first degree tears, second degree tears and third and fourth degree tears.

More serious tears can also extend to the vulva (external genitals) and muscles in the anus (back passage) damaging the lining muscle of the anus and the anal sphincter, being the muscle that controls the anus.

If you suffer a perineal tear during childbirth, your doctor is required examine you and identify it at delivery. These tears require prompt diagnosis and surgical repair, however, they are often missed and not repaired at the time of delivery of your baby. Sometimes they are poorly repaired.

  • Failure to perform an episiotomy or performing an episiotomy unnecessarily

An episiotomy is a surgical incision made by a doctor or midwife during childbirth to expedite delivery of the baby and help reduce the risk of uncontrolled and severe tearing.

Obstetricians and midwives should only recommend and perform an episiotomy if there is a clinical indication for it to be performed or the mother specifically requests one.

Episiotomies reduce the risk of the mother suffering a serious tear, but before performing one an obstetrician or a midwife should explain the risks and benefits of an episiotomy to the mother and obtain the mother’s informed consent.

  • Post-partum haemorrhage

Although vaginal bleeding and some blood loss is normal after giving birth, some women experience abnormally heavy bleeding, which is knows as post-partum haemorrhage (PPH). A major bleed can be life threatening to the mother. Obstetricians and midwifes are trained to recognise if a mother is at risk of suffering from PPH and are required to take steps in order to reduce the chance of haemorrhage, treat it quickly, and, if possible, prevent it all together.

  • Ruptured uterus

A ruptured uterus is a life-threatening medical emergency to the baby and mother. It needs to be diagnosed and treated promptly by way of urgent caesarean section and uterine repair or hysterectomy.

A ruptured uterus occurs when the wall of the uterus or womb tears during pregnancy or delivery. It is more common in women who have previously delivered by way of a caesarean section, where the uterus tears at the site of their previous c-section scar. Therefore, it is usually contraindicated for women who have previously delivered a baby by way of c-section to attempt a subsequent natural vaginal delivery or a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean).

  • Prolapsed uterus

Prolapsed uterus occurs when one or more of the pelvic organs budges into the vagina. It occurs in cases of lengthy or difficult labour and delivery or large babies and raises considerations as to whether the baby should have been delivered by way of a c-section.

  • Not managing or treating gestational diabetes

If not properly managed, gestational diabetes can increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications, make the birth more difficult and result in injury to the mother or baby. These complications include:

  • Macrosomia (i.e. larger babies weighing more than 4,000 grams).
  • Shoulder dystocia.
  • High blood pressure and pre-eclampsia.
  • Pre-term birth.
  • Still birth.
  • Requirement for instrumental delivery by way of forceps or ventouse (vacuum) or caesarean section.
  • Not managing or treating pre-eclampsia or eclampsia

Both preeclampsia and eclampsia can cause serious health problems for the mother and baby.

Mothers with pre-eclampsia are at increased risk of damage to the kidneys, liver, brain, and other organs and blood systems. Pre-eclampsia can, also, lead to a separation of the placenta from the uterus (i.e. placental abruption), preterm birth, and pregnancy loss (i.e. stillbirth). In some cases, pre-eclampsia can lead to organ failure or stroke. In severe cases, pre-eclampsia can develop into eclampsia, which includes seizures and result in death of the mother or baby.

Pre-eclampsia may be related to problems with the placenta early in the pregnancy, which include lack of oxygen and nutrients, which can impair the baby’s growth and development, and cause premature birth, stillbirth as a result of placental abruption and heavy bleeding in the mother.

What are the consequence maternal birth injuries?

A negative experience before, during or shortly after childbirth is highly personal and everyone reacts differently. However, the most common consequences are:

  • Urinary incontinence – lack of control to pass urine.
  • Faecal incontinence – lack of control to pass faeces (i.e. stool) or wind.
  • Development of a rectovaginal fistula – which is a hole or a passage in the wall between vagina and anus, which can cause faeces to pass through the vagina. 
  • Pain in the perineum, being the tissue between the vagina and anus when sitting or being active or on sexual intercourse or when urinating or passing stool.
  • Scarring in the perineal area.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Further surgical procedures to correct tearing or scarring.
  • Feeling of heaviness in the vagina or perineal area.
  • Development of post-natal post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby.
  • Feeling isolated or a sense of guilt or failure.
  • Avoiding circumstances or situations that are reminiscent of the birth.
  • Blood clots in legs or pelvis veins.
  • Injuries to the bladder.
  • Uterine ruptures.
  • Pelvic organ prolapse due to weakened pelvic muscles or ligaments resulting in dropped organs.

Birth Injuries to babies

It is generally considered to be very safe to have a baby in Australia. Despite this, more than 1,000 babies are seriously injured during childbirth each year. It can be very traumatic to both parents if your baby is injured during the birth process even if the injury is temporary or minimal.

Birth injury to a newborn baby can range from bruising to nerve damage to a broken bone. Sometimes, it can result in profound and lifelong disabilities from brain injury resulting in conditions like cerebral palsy. A birth injury to a baby is something that an obstetrician or midwife should be able to avoid in the exercise of reasonable skill and care in most circumstances.

What are the most common types of birth injuries?

The most common birth injuries are:

  • Forceps delivery and ventouse (vacuum) delivery injuries

Sometimes a baby can be born with injuries to the head or face consisting of bruises, laceration and swelling of the scalp if delivered with the assistance of forceps or ventouse (vacuum). Forceps and vacuum deliveries can result in permanent marks and scars on the baby’s face and head because of lacerations.

Forceps or vacuum extractions are often used, when:

  • Labour is not progressing, despite maternal pushing.
  • The mother is getting too tired and is no longer able to push.
  • There are maternal health conditions that prevent the mother from pushing for too long.
  • The baby’s heartrate is abnormal (i.e. fetal distress).

An improperly performed forceps delivery or a vacuum delivery, or one that is performed without mother’s consent, can result in major complication and injuries to the mother or baby.

  • Fractures

Fractures of the clavicle or collarbone are the most common injuries during birth. They occur if there is trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder or during a breech delivery. Skull fractures also sometimes occur as result of use of assistive tools such as forceps. Skull fractures may, also, cause brain damage.

Fractures often occur because of incorrect or improper pulling or twisting of the baby during labour and the delivery process.

  • Brachial palsy or Erb’s palsy

Branchial palsy occurs when a group of nerves that supplies the arms and hands (i.e. the brachial plexus) of the baby is injured during childbirth. A brachial plexus injury is most common when there is trouble delivering the baby’s shoulder. This is known as shoulder dystocia. As a result of an injury to the branchial plexus, the baby will usually lose the ability to flex and rotate the arm. Tearing of the nerve may cause permanent nerve damage and can result in permanent weakness or loss of muscle function in the shoulder and arm of the baby.

Brachial palsy or Erb’s palsy can occur because of:

  • Excessive force or pulling on the baby’s neck or head during a delivery.
  • Pulling on the baby’s feet during a breech delivery.
  • The baby getting stuck under the mother’s pelvic bone or in the birth canal during delivery.
  • Facial paralysis

During labour or birth, pressure on a baby’s face may injure the facial nerves. This risk is increased when forceps are used to deliver the baby. This injury is often observed when the baby cries and there is no movement on the affected side of the face and the baby’s eye remains open. Surgery may be necessary to repair the nerve damage.

  • Brain injuries and cerebral palsy

Brain injuries in a newborn can be caused by:

  • Bleeding in the brain.
  • Physical injuries from blunt force by forceps or vacuum extraction.
  • Pulling on the head.
  • Umbilical cord choking or a prolapsed umbilical cord.
  • Undiagnosed brain infection.
  • Heart attacks or strokes.

In rare cases, a baby may suffer hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) because of acute loss of blood and oxygen flow to the brain during childbirth. The deprivation of oxygen and blood causes cells in the developing brain to rapidly decay and then die. The oxygen deprivation is sometimes due to obstetric complications during the labour and delivery process causing excessive oxygen deprivation resulting in HIE and consequent cerebral palsy. This often occurs due to improper monitoring of the baby’s well-being during labour to ascertain whether the baby is in distress and failing to perform an urgent delivery of the baby.

Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain during childbirth can be caused by a number of things, such as problems with the umbilical cord, serious events in the mother such as haemorrhage or fever during labour, uterine rupture or abruption of the placenta (i.e. when it comes away from the uterus prematurely).

If the lack of oxygen is severe enough, it can lead to periventricular leukomalacia (i.e. death of white brain matter). This will lead to the loss of significant amounts of tissue in the brain. As the white brain matter is specifically tied to motor function, its loss will affect the baby’s movement.

  • Intrauterine fetal demise

As opposed to a miscarriage, which happens before the 20th week of pregnancy, intrauterine fetal demise refers to a baby who dies in utero after the 20th week of pregnancy in the second trimester.

Obstetricians, midwives and other medical professionals should thoroughly review, test, and monitor the mother and the baby for signs of fetal demise and take steps to reduce the chance of this occurring.

  • Neonatal or newborn jaundice and kernicterus

Neonatal or newborn jaundice is from a build-up of a substance in the blood called bilirubin. It causes the baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes to go yellow. Although mostly harmless, if left untreated, in more serve cases, it can cause permanent brain damage. When a baby suffers from kernicterus it means bilirubin has begun to collect the baby’s brain. This can lead to numerous health issues including seizures, hearing loss, and brain damage.

  • Newborn or neonatal cephalohematoma

A newborn cephalohematoma is also known as a newborn or infant haematoma. It is caused by a build-up of ruptured blood vessels in the periosteum, which is the tissue that covers the skull. The haematoma can put pressure on the baby’s brain and lead to brain damage and lifelong disability if not immediately diagnosed and treated. It can be caused by forceps and vacuum deliveries.

Often a review of recent radiological imaging may highlight a likely difficult birth that would favour delivery by way of caesarean section (c-section) instead of a natural vaginal delivery. Things like failures on the part of treatment providers to detect problems with the umbilical cord, such as a prolapsed umbilical cord and not monitoring or having any regard to the size of the baby in proportion to the mother’s birth canal, or the positioning of the baby, all increase the likelihood of birth injuries to babies and mothers.

Birth defects

Birth defects are structural changes present at birth that can affect almost any part or parts of the baby’s body. They may affect how the body looks, works, or both. Birth defects can vary from mild to severe. Most birth defects occur in the first 3 months of pregnancy, but many also occur during any stage of pregnancy.

  • What are the causes of birth defects?

Sometimes, birth defects are caused by factors that are preventable, such as:

  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking certain drugs during pregnancy.
  • Having certain medical conditions, during pregnancy, such as being obese or having uncontrolled gestational diabetes before and during pregnancy.
  • Taking certain medications (i.e. isotretinoin, which is a drug used to treat severe acne) certain antidepressant drugs and birth control medications.
  • Family history of birth defects.
  • Having certain infections during pregnancy.
  • Experiencing fever or having an elevated body temperature due to heat exposure.
  • Being an older mother, as the risk of chromosomal abnormalities increases with maternal age.
  • When will there be a medical negligence claim because of a birth defect?

When a birth defect is diagnosed early in the pregnancy, the parents may make a choice not to take on the burden of raising a disabled child and consider terminating the pregnancy. Sometimes, because of negligence on the part of their treatment provider, which could be as simple as reviewing ultrasound imaging or performing a blood test, a birth defect is not diagnosed and results in the birth of a child with disabilities. This, often, gives rise to a medical negligence compensation claim for the cost of raising a disabled child as well as nervous shock claim for the parents.

  • What are the consequences of birth injuries and defects?

The most common consequences to babies because of birth injuries and birth defects are:

  • Impairments in motor skills, muscle tone, and movement.
  • Cognitive deficit.
  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Developmental delay.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Speech difficulties.
  • Lung disease.
  • Low bone density.
  • Limited vision or hearing.
  • Emotional impairment.
  • Limb problems and joint dysfunction.
  • Affected strength and stamina.
  • Affected mobility and ambulation.

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