Whilst it is relatively uncommon for woman to suffer significant injury during childbirth, if such injuries do occur the effects can be painful and even debilitating.

Our Bristol based medical negligence solicitors have extensive experience when it comes to handling birth injury claims.
If you would like to discuss a birth injury directly with one of our medical negligence solicitors, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Our initial advice is always free.

What are the most common birth injuries?

If you believe you have experienced any of the common birth injuries below as a result of medical negligence, you may be entitled to a birth injury compensation claim:

Perineal tears: Childbirth can lead to an overstretching of the vagina due to the baby being large and/or the mother being slight. This can cause tears in the skin between the vagina and the rectum (the perineum). Most of the time, these tears are minor and heal without any problem, but the more serious tears (classified as third or fourth degree tears) can cause significant problems which include ongoing pain and incontinence.
Retained swab: Swabs are used for cleansing purposes and to soak up naturally occurring blood during childbirth. Occasionally, they are left in the vagina by mistake. If not identified and removed immediately, they can cause the patient to suffer infection and blood loss amongst other things. Find out more here.
Traumatic cloaca: This is where the vagina and the rectum essentially become one entity as a result of obstetric injury during childbirth. Side effects include incontinence.
Rectovaginal fistula: A fistula is an unnatural connection between an organ, vessel or intestine and some other part of the body. As the name suggests, a rectovaginal fistula occurs when a connection is formed between the rectum and the vagina, leading to faeces being passed through the vagina. The most common cause of rectovaginal fistulas is obstetric trauma.
Episiotomy pain: Damage to the perineum during childbirth can occur spontaneously or as a result of the midwife or doctor making an episiotomy (a surgical incision) to help with childbirth. It is not uncommon for a woman to experience pain from an episiotomy for several weeks, if not months, after giving birth. This does not necessarily mean that the treating medical staff were negligent in the way an episiotomy was carried out. However, if the episiotomy was not justified in the first place, then that would be negligent.


Birth Injury FAQs

  • What are the impacts of childbirth injuries?

    It may be difficult for many people who have suffered from serious birth injury to discuss this openly. Giving birth is supposed to be a time to be celebrated and to be happy, but if you have suffered a birth injury you will probably be upset and distressed.

    Often people do not realise the damage that can be done during childbirth and labour and the implications of this too. Sometimes tearing can happen in the perineum whilst giving birth, and if the tearing is severe, the perineum can tear all the way down to the anal canal and rectum. 

    If this happened to you, you ought to have had surgery to repair the tear to your perineum immediately following the birth of your child. Your recovery will be probably be painful and you will need to have antibiotics too to ensure there is no infection of your wound. You may find that after your operation and during your recovery you have problems controlling your bowels and you may even be experiencing faecal incontinence. This is normal and it is because the muscle that controls your bowel has been damaged and is still healing. However, if you are continuing to suffer from such symptoms several months after giving birth, then there is a possibility that the repair surgery was not carried out to an acceptable standard.  

    Some of the symptoms of the damage to your bowel muscle are that you suddenly feel desperate to run to the toilet and find it difficult to hold on; you suffer from diarrhoea; or you are unable to hold in or control any wind. These symptoms will be very distressing, but will hopefully improve as the muscle repairs itself and your wound starts to heal. You can also help the control of your bowel by completing pelvic floor exercises as the pelvic floor muscles actually help to support the muscle which works your bowel too.  

    If, at your six week check-up you feel that you are not recovering well or you are still struggling with faecal incontinence, you should raise this with your treating doctor and ask to be referred to a physiotherapist who is specialised in helping with this kind of birth injury. It is a difficult and distressing thing to go through but there is help available for you, so don’t suffer in silence. 

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

  • My baby sustained a severe laceration from the use of forceps during delivery. Can I sue?

    Should forceps have been used?

    The use of instruments such as forceps during labour is in most cases reasonable and justified. 

    That said, the doctor undertaking the use of forceps must make sure that the forceps are applied and used correctly otherwise injury to the baby can occur.

    Why didn't they perform a Caesarean Section? 

    We are sometimes asked whether in a particular case, a Caesarean Section ought to have been carried out as opposed to a “normal” vaginal birth with the use of forceps. Whilst this would remove the risks associated with the use of forceps, it must be remembered that a Caesarean Section is major abdominal surgery and also comes with increased risk of significant blood loss, as well as a much longer hospital stay and recovery time than if the baby is delivered vaginally.

    As a result, it is often reasonable (even where a difficult vaginal birth is anticipated) for initial attempts to be made at a vaginal birth (perhaps with the use of forceps) but with a view to swapping to a Caesarean Section if deemed necessary.

    What safety measures should be in place? 

    As one would expect, the Royal College of Gynaecologists makes various recommendations for things that ought to be in place before a decision is made to proceed with a vaginal delivery:  There should be theatre staff immediately available to allow a Caesarean Section to be performed within 30 minutes in case of failure to deliver vaginally.

    How should the forceps be used? 

    If forceps are used then the leading edge of the forceps blade should be placed over the baby’s upper jaw. If your baby has, therefore, sustained an injury/laceration to his/her forehead or eye then this suggests that the leading edge of the forceps blade was incorrectly placed and/or that poor technique was used by the doctor concerned. Either way this is potentially evidence of negligent treatment.

    Even where the nature and location of the injury suggests that the forceps were correctly positioned, the fact that an injury has come about at all would be concerning and may suggest that the forceps were used in an overly zealous manner.

    Contact us for free first advice

    If your baby has suffered an injury following the use of forceps during labour then we would like to hear from you.

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

  • What are third and fourth degree tears?

    third degree tear will extend downwards from the vaginal wall and perineum to the anal sphincter, which is the muscle which controls the anus.

    fourth degree tear is the most serious type of tear that can be experienced when giving birth. It extends down from through the vaginal wall, through the perineum to the anus canal and into the rectum. Although it can be very difficult to predict when a tear might happen, there are indicators to show higher risk. 

    These factors are:

    • If you have a long second stage of labour (the time from when you are fully dilated to when you give birth). A long time for this phase (certainly if it is a first baby) is anything in excess of 3 hours. 
    • If your labour is induced.
    • If it is your first vaginal birth.
    • If you are expecting and give birth to a large baby (over 8lb 13oz or 4kg).
    • If you have an assisted delivery using either ventouse or forceps.

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

  • How is a fourth degree tear treated?

    If your midwife thinks you have a fourth degree tear, you will have a thorough examination of your vagina and anus and you will be advised on your surgical options.

    You will need to have either a spinal anaesthetic, epidural, or possibly even a general anaesthetic and your tear will be stitched.

    The repair should be carried out as soon as possible after the birth to prevent excessive loss of blood and to minimise the risk of infection. In addition, a catheter should be inserted to avoid urinary retention.

    The repair of a fourth degree tear should be carried out by (or be under the supervision of) a doctor who has been formally trained in primary anal sphincter repair.

    If this did not happen in your case then you may well have a claim for medical negligence.

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

  • How should a third degree tear be treated?

    A third degree tear ought to be repaired in an operating theatre under anaesthetic. This will normally be a spinal anaesthetic but it may be a general anaesthetic.

    The repair should be carried out by a doctor who has had formal training in primary anal sphincter repair, or at least by someone who is under the supervision of someone so trained. Following the repair, you ought to be given antibiotics to reduce the risk of any infection and you should also be given painkillers and laxatives to make it more comfortable for you to open your bowels. Within 6 to 8 weeks of the delivery of your baby you should be assessed in hospital by a senior obstetrician so that the extent of your recovery from the tear can be assessed.

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

  • What are the long term effects of a third degree tear?

    A good recovery should be made after a third degree tear but some women may have pain or soreness in the perineum, a feeling that they may need to rush to the loo to open their bowels, a fear about having sex again and also about getting pregnant and giving birth again.

    It may not be possible to have a vaginal birth after suffering a third degree tear – you should discuss this with your consultant. If you have suffered or indeed continue to suffer symptoms following the repair of your third degree tear, such as incontinence or pain during intercourse, then it could be that the repair was not done properly.

    If this is the case, you could have a medical negligence claim.

    If you would like some more information about this article or if you would like to speak to someone in our medical negligence team, please call us on 0117 239 8012 and we’d be happy to help you.

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