Who are the forgotten mums involved in traumatic births?

Business / Sun 21st Apr 2024 at 10:18am

LEADING UK law firm, Irwin Mitchell, wants to raise awareness of the ‘forgotten mums’ who often suffer in silence after experiencing birth injuries affecting them both physically and psychologically.

The usual focus following a traumatic birth is on the babies’ condition and any immediate physical injuries affecting the mother.

However, something that isn’t considered enough is the toll on mental health from experiencing something so severe at such an important time of life. Research shows that circa 30,000 women a year in the UK will go on to develop post-natal PTSD, a recognised psychological condition after birth, and Irwin Mitchell believes that this is not something that should be overlooked.

What is birth trauma?

Birth trauma is described by the Birth Trauma Association as, “a broad term applied to those who experience symptoms of psychological distress after childbirth.” Irwin Mitchell has more information available here too. In some cases, these symptoms can be so serious after a traumatic birth it results in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even though birth injuries to babies can include serious outcomes such as cerebral palsy or lack of oxygen, we need to also remember that mums can experience injury too during childbirth or do not receive adequate treatment following a birth injury.  Irwin Mitchell is campaigning to raise awareness of medical negligence to mothers to ensure they’re receiving the correct level of support both physically and psychologically

Available Support

Geeta Nayar, Senior Associate Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, specialises in maternal injury claims, and during the birth of her first child, she sustained life-changing injuries and post-natal PTSD, and became an advocate and strong campaigner for women with severe perineal and maternal injuries. She also provided evidence to a recent Inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on birth trauma in the UK.

Geeta says: “We recognise that the injuries that happen during childbirth can leave you with physical and psychological trauma that can last a lifetime. We want to raise awareness of the full impact that a traumatic birth can have: from the birth injuries to the baby and mother, to the psychological issues that parents can face.

“It’s important to recognise that women aren’t alone, and that there is help available. Experiencing this first-hand means that I know the toll this can take on families, and I work with a range of charities to support injured clients. I attended Parliament to support on the first ever debate on birth injury last October which was a landmark moment. We are starting to see some changes introduced such as new mums receiving more comprehensive mental and physical check-ups at 6-8 weeks, and hopefully the next few years will see that support and awareness grow further.”

Birth Injuries to Mums

Birth injuries to mums can include perineal tears to women who give birth vaginally, nerve injury which can lead to bowel or bladder damage and risk of infection. There can also be injuries to the pelvic floor including pelvic organ prolapse if the muscles are damaged. 

There are signs to look out for and common symptoms such as persistent pain, incontinence, and vaginal discomfort. If these symptoms aren’t diagnosed and treated properly, they can have a significant impact on a mother’s life especially if there has been a lack of communication and inadequate post-natal follow up and support.

Geeta added: “Whilst there can be naturally occurring birth injuries, it’s so important that mother and child are receiving adequate care all throughout pregnancy, the birth and post-natal care. Sadly, there are instances of birth trauma that could have been prevented such as the failure to recognise and act upon risk factors ante-natally and during the birth, a caesarean section or episiotomy not being carried out in suitable scenarios or inadequate treatment following a birth injury.”

Given the sensitivity of birth injury, as well as the immediate and sometimes overwhelming issues around managing daily activities, families can often be concerned about the idea of pursuing legal action but it’s important to realise that aside from financial support, this can also drive changes to practice resulting in improvements to maternal and neonatal safety for everyone.

There is also a growing experience of birth partners feeling forgotten too, which can have a mental impact, especially if an injury has affected their child or partner. This is due to the fact that they are not a medical priority and are often overlooked by the health system. Guy Forster, Partner and Head of the Medical Negligence team at the Cambridge office, recently featured on the Dad still standing podcast to discuss this further.

As well as speaking with birth injury specialists at Irwin Mitchell, parents who feel they need further support in dealing with a traumatic birth can contact charities: MASIC FoundationThe Birth Trauma Association or Make Birth Better.

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