Obstetrics is the medical specialty concerned with the health of mum and baby during the course of pregnancy and childbirth. Many doctors specialise in both obstetrics and gynaecology, practising as OBGYNs (obstetricians/gynaecologists).
Many medical negligence claims centred on childbirth focus on birth injuries, or harm that befalls babies before, during, and after they are born. However, it is of the utmost importance not to overlook the impact that medical errors during pregnancy and childbirth can have on mothers. These are known as maternal obstetric injuries.
The birth of a child should be a joyous occasion. Unfortunately, medical negligence can turn a happy day into a tragic one.
If you or your baby suffered harm in the delivery room, it is important to seek knowledgeable legal guidance as soon as possible. Contact Henry Carus + Associates today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
Types of Obstetric Injuries
Despite improvements in medical care, childbirth is still a potentially dangerous event. According to the latest statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there are approximately seven deaths per 100,000 women giving birth. Many more women suffer life-altering injuries during labour and delivery each year.
Some of the most common maternal obstetric injuries include:
The perineum is the space between the vagina and the anus. During labour, muscles in the perineum work hard to aid in pushing the baby through the birth canal.
An obstetrician may perform a procedure known as an episiotomy to avoid traumatic tearing of the perineum and to create more room for the delivery of the baby. If an episiotomy is not performed, the perineum may tear on its own, potentially resulting in:
- Significant blood loss
- Damage to skin, tissues, and muscles of the perineum
- Injury to the vaginal mucosa
- Injury to the anal sphincter
Long-term complications of a perineal tear may include incontinence, chronic pain, and pain during sexual intercourse. Severe tears can also damage nerves in the perineal region. Medical professionals may be liable for negligence in treating a perineal tear, as well as failure to perform an episiotomy when indicated.
Pelvic Floor Injury
The perineal muscles make up part of a muscle group known as the pelvic floor. Stretching from the pubic bone in front to the base of the spine in the rear, pelvic floor muscles support the foetus as it grows and aid in delivery of the baby.
Most women experience some change in the pelvic floor muscles as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. However, negligence on the part of medical professionals can lead to significant pelvic floor injuries, including damage to the muscles and nerves and – in extreme cases – prolapse of organs such as the bladder and bowel.
Some blood loss is expected after the baby is delivered as mum expels the placenta. However, excess blood loss after labour (known as postpartum haemorrhage) is a medical emergency that requires timely intervention.
Potential causes of postpartum haemorrhage include:
- A lengthy or complicated delivery
- Delivery of a large baby
- Birth of multiples
- Tearing of the perineum
- Uterine rupture
- Retention of all or part of the placenta
Medical professionals involved in the labour and delivery should monitor the woman as she gives birth and afterward for loss of blood and changes in blood pressure. Negligence may be a factor when practitioners fail to diagnose and treat postpartum haemorrhage and placental complications.
An epidural may be administered during childbirth to help alleviate pain. Epidural anaesthesia and/or a spinal block may also be used in preparation for a caesarean section. Both types of anaesthetic are delivered through injections to the spine.
Unfortunately, negligent administration of an epidural or spinal block can injure the mother’s spinal cord. Errors on the part of the anaesthesiologist can lead to nerve damage and, in extreme cases, paralysis.
Multiple issues can cause women to suffer emotional and psychological harm (known as birth trauma) associated with giving birth. Birth trauma may result from long, painful, or complicated labour, as well as injury to the baby. Women who suffer from birth trauma may experience postnatal depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other psychological conditions.
Some cases of birth trauma occur despite the best efforts of medical personnel. However, negligence may lead to psychological injury if (a) the woman did not receive necessary care in the course of labour and delivery and/or (b) doctors fail to diagnose birth trauma in the weeks or months after giving birth.
What Causes Obstetric Injuries?
Doctors, nurses, midwives, and other medical professionals undergo advanced education and training to help women deliver their babies safely. Practitioners are expected to account for potential complications (e.g., maternal health issues, multiple foetuses, etc.), monitor the mother and baby for distress during labour, and make prompt decisions concerning care (e.g., performing a caesarean section, using forceps or a vacuum pump, etc.).
Unfortunately, medical negligence during labour and delivery can exacerbate complications and cause injury to the mother, her baby, or both. Common issues that lead to maternal obstetric injuries include:
- Prolonged labour
- Errors in monitoring for maternal and fetal distress
- Failure to manoeuvre the baby into a safer position for delivery
- Uncontrolled bleeding during labour
- Misuse of forceps or vacuum suction devices
- Failure to perform a caesarean section when it is medically necessary
- Errors in administering anaesthesia (e.g., improper epidural injection damages nerves in the spine)
Many of these injuries can arise due to negligence on the part of medical professionals who take part in labour and delivery. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what happened in the delivery room. Doctors may not go into detail, leaving women with the limited knowledge that “something went wrong.”
If this is the situation your family is facing, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Obstetric injuries require thorough investigation to determine how they occurred and who is at fault.
Contact an Obstetric Injury Lawyer Today
Doctors and other healthcare workers may be liable for injuries sustained by a mother and her baby during childbirth. At Henry Carus + Associates, we draw upon extensive experience with medical negligence and birth injury claims to pursue full compensation for families harmed by the errors of medical professionals.
Michelle Dubrava is the Medical Negligence Practice Group Leader at Henry Carus + Associates. Having previously defended major public hospitals and private medical practices, Michelle knows how these organisations operate. Today, in conjunction with our skilled team of lawyers and staff, Michelle represents patients in claims against practitioners, hospitals, and other negligent providers.
Obstetric injuries can affect a woman for years or even the rest of her life, often when she is just beginning to undertake the challenges of raising a family. At Henry Carus + Associates, we believe that You Deserve More. Our team focuses on recovering damages not only for your current economic losses but for damages such as pain and suffering, lost earning capacity, permanent impairment, and more.
Please call Henry Carus + Associates at 03 9001 1318 today for a free, no-obligation consultation. Our lawyers handle claims involving obstetric injury to mothers and children in Melbourne and all of Victoria.