Skip to main content

Contact us to arrange your
FREE initial consultation

Call me back Email us

Written on 10th October 2023 by Julie Marsh

In today’s NHS, maternity care, claims and inquiries seem to dominate the healthcare headlines, but until recently, the concept of birth trauma to the mother wasn’t widely recognised or even acknowledged. The negation of women’s traumatic childbirth injuries and experiences created a stigma and shame which prevented thousands of women from seeking and receiving treatment for the debilitating physical and psychological effects of their condition.

Birth trauma destroys lives and family relationships, causes disability and pain, and affects the mother’s ability to look after and bond with her baby. Where the father or partner witnessed the trauma to the mother or baby, they can also suffer from psychological injury. In both cases, help and support is available.

What is the Birth Trauma Association?

I recently interviewed Dr Kim Thomas, CEO of the Birth Trauma Association to learn more about the charity and its valuable work.

Dr Thomas recalled that the Birth Trauma Association (BTA) were the first charity to support women who have suffered traumatic birth experiences. Since their launch nearly 20 years ago in 2004, BTA have worked to overcome a culture of resistance amongst health professionals and many other sectors of society to the sad reality that for many parents the experience of childbirth can be traumatic. Their work built on the recognition in the 1990s that PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) can be caused by birth trauma. PTSD is a severe psychological condition with a specific psychiatric (medical) diagnosis which was first used to describe the trauma suffered by wartime veterans.

BTA have succeeded in changing the narrative about birth and its range of outcomes and experiences for those involved, so that those who experience birth trauma can seek help and support. The charity provides peer support and a safe space (free from stigma or judgement) for parents who have suffered traumatic birth experiences to share their stories and be heard and acknowledged, with support provided by telephone, email, Zoom or via their Facebook group.

What is birth trauma?

‘Birth trauma’ is a term that is used in different contexts to describe a range of physical and/or psychological injuries that can be suffered by the mother or baby, or psychologically by the father or birth partner, during the process of labour and birth.

BTA’s support team interpret ‘birth trauma’ loosely, enabling them to provide peer support to anyone who has been traumatised by their pregnancy or birth experience, whether or not they have received a formal diagnosis.

Many of the mothers they support have suffered some kind of emergency, unexpected complication or traumatising pain during birth or labour which was made worse by poor treatment, unkindness or lack of compassion from those on whom they were relying for care.  Either parent may have (unjustified) feelings of guilt about not being able to prevent a birth injury to their partner or child, when in fact their concerns or requests for help were simply ignored. Some women live with shame and embarrassment about the physical and other effects of their resulting condition, which may have been met with lack of understanding or indifference from their healthcare professionals, friends or family members.

As birth injury lawyers, we see the impact that these issues have on the lives of many of the women who come to us for help after their birth experience has led to severe injury with ongoing (but often hidden) disability.  At this extreme, but sadly not uncommon, level of harm, ‘birth trauma’ can refer to physical injury to the mother (maternal injury) from poor medical handling of obstetric emergencies (such as shoulder dystocia, uterine rupture, obstetric haemorrhage, unplanned vaginal breech birth, or impaction of the fetal head) or from physical trauma from forceps injury or untreated 3rd or 4th degree vaginal tears.

‘Birth trauma’ can also refer to severe psychological injury and PTSD, such as from anaesthetic awareness during caesarean section, or life-threatening events in which the woman (or her watching partner) feared she (or the baby) would die.

PTSD can be very intrusive and highly distressing for sufferers, with symptoms including flashbacks and nightmares, intense anxiety and hypervigilance, low mood, and avoidance of anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. Parents with PTSD from birth trauma inevitably meet with daily reminders of their birth experience, in the media, in medical environments and in everyday life, whenever they encounter other mothers with babies. Caring for a new baby is tiring for any mother, but can also be isolating and unmanageable when coupled with symptoms of PTSD from birth trauma.

The long-term physical and psychological effects of birth trauma can also impair the woman’s ability to contemplate or safely complete further pregnancies.

In legal and medical terms, ‘birth trauma’ can also refer to birth-related injury to the baby, ranging from forceps injuries during assisted labour, and brachial plexus injury (Erb’s palsy) from poorly-managed shoulder dystocia, to severe brain injury and cerebral palsy from mismanaged or delayed delivery. 

Compensation for severe injury from birth trauma

Where birth trauma leaves severe ongoing physical and/or PTSD or psychological injury, which was caused by mistakes or negligent treatment during pregnancy, labour or birth, a claim can provide funded access to private treatment and support which may not be readily available or accessible via the NHS. Compensation can also be a lifeline to care, therapies, specialist equipment and accommodation, to help meet the needs arising from long-term disability.

Our birth injury specialist solicitors handle all enquiries and claims confidentially and with understanding and sensitivity.

You can contact the Birth Trauma Association for peer support via their website.

If you or your partner or child have suffered severe injury as a result of medical negligence or have been contacted by HSSIB/MNSI or NHS Resolution you can talk to a solicitor, free and confidentially, for advice about how to respond or make a claim by contacting us.