It is concerning to read that women are twice as likely to suffer serious blood loss and severe tears during childbirth in some hospitals in Great Britain.
The number of women affected by third and fourth-degree tears – a serious complication of vaginal birth which increases the risk of incontinence and provides complications for any future consideration of a natural delivery – varies widely from hospital to hospital, according to a recent audit.
The injuries occurred in one in 30 vaginal births across all hospitals, but in some units in 2015-16 it was one in 15, leading calls for an investigation into why there is such a disparity.
At the Royal Sussex County Hospital, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, 6.5% of women were reportedly affected, compared with just 0.6% at Dr Gray’s Hospital, NHS Grampian.
As a specialist in supporting mothers in birth negligent compensations claims after suffering injuries, I certainly support calls from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for investigations into these results.
Certainly, those with the higher percentages of injuries to new mums need to review how and why it is happening, and how care can be improved.
Pregnancy and labour is always difficult, especially for a first time mother.
No first-time mother knows quite what to expect or how their body is going to recover afterwards.
This leads to many circumstances in which new mums fail to question injuries they suffer giving birth, believing it to be part and parcel of what is to be expected when bringing new life into the world.
When faced with injury, their thoughts are often simply to get it fixed as quickly as possible so that they can enjoy their new baby.
They feel they don’t have time to worry about themselves, they don’t question their injuries, and don’t question whether errors – which could and should have been avoided – will have a long term impact on their future quality of life.
Mum injured giving birth was left too afraid to have more children
A young mother we represented at Hudgell Solicitors was left too afraid to have more children and extend her family due to medical staff leaving her with long-term injuries following the birth of her only child.
She suffered a second degree tear when she gave birth to her son and needed stitching afterwards, but errors made during the repair procedure left her in pain for months.
As a result she required extra repair surgery months later and was told she faced the threat of serious further injury should she decided to have another child naturally.
The errors, which were admitted by the Hospital Trust involved as part of a legal case we handled, caused not only physical pain and suffering for the woman – but also psychological trauma going forward, as she has felt unable to face giving birth again.
A criticism this woman faced as part of the negligence claim was that at one stage she had allegedly refused an examination, which was later proved to be incorrect. This is simply not acceptable and women should be encouraged to actually request examination and to question what has happened to their body.
Mums must be encouraged to question changes and request examinations after birth
It must be stressed that The National Maternity and Perinatal Audit’s report, which covered 149 out of 155 NHS trusts and boards in England, Scotland and Wales and was based on the electronic records of nearly 700,000 births, showed that most women had a safe birth.
Childbirth is certainly now safer than ever before, but sadly, in the work that I do, I know that when something does go wrong, it can be devastating and result in lifelong repercussions for either the mother or child – or both.
I truly believe we need more openness about birth injuries.
New mums should be encouraged by midwifery staff to question any changes to their body and where necessary request examination by either the midwives, their GP or the health visiting team, to ensure that problems are not left unnecessarily.
It is unacceptable that new mums either feel unable to ask questions or that they have to cope with any injuries suffered.
Maternity units should also be reassessing their own performances on the back of this report and examining ways of achieving higher levels of performance. Staff should be reviewed and stricter monitoring of the way mothers are dealt with after delivery should be considered.
Giving birth is not just about bringing new life into the world, but about doing so in the safest, risk free way for the mother also.
That should never be forgotten, and this report suggests it is something which requires greater focus going forward.