Injuries that occur during birth, whether to the child being born or the mother giving birth, can have serious lifelong consequences. In the most serious cases, such as where a baby suffers a brain injury during birth, they can be left needing full-time care for the rest of their lives.
Reducing the risk of birth injuries, both for individuals and across the NHS as a whole, involves understanding the factors that can increase the likelihood of a birth injury and then taking steps to minimise the risks where those factors are present.
Recognising risk factors for birth injuries
There are a number of important risk factors for birth injuries that midwives, doctors and other medical staff need to be aware of before, during and immediately after a birth.
Certain pre-existing health conditions in the mother can increase the risk of a birth injury. This is because they can make it more likely that the supply of oxygen to the baby will be reduced or cut off during birth, causing the potential for brain damage and/or organ damage if the baby becomes starved of oxygen.
Examples of these types of maternal health conditions include:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Severe asthma
- Blood disorders such as sickle-cell disease
Complications during the birth can also significantly increase the risk of a birth injury. For example, babies who are born prematurely are 7 times more likely to suffer a brain injury than those who are born on or after their due date.
Anything that prolongs the length of time the baby spends in the birth canal can increase the chances of them becoming starved of oxygen. This can include birth complications such as:
- Multiple births (twins, triplets etc)
- Breech births
- Unusually large infants
Other issues that can potentially lead to the baby receiving a reduced supply of oxygen during birth include:
- Gestational diabetes
- Damage to the placenta
- Placental praevia (where the placenta blocks the cervix)
How to reduce the risk of a birth injury
The key to reducing the risk of birth injuries in most cases is for medical staff to recognise where risk factors are present, and to subsequently take appropriate action to prevent those risk factors leading to complications during birth wherever possible.
This means testing for and monitoring risk factors, such as high maternal blood pressure, and making sure this information is effectively shared with the team handling the birth. It also means decisions about medical intervention, such as performing a caesarean section, need to be taken promptly to minimise the risk of the baby spending too long in the birth canal or being exposed to other risks for birth injury.
There are various steps that can be taken to improve how this side of dealing with the birth is handled, including making sure staff have better training on recognising risk factors and that where risk factors are identified this information is shared effectively.
However, a significant factor increasing the risk of birth injuries is likely to be staff shortages across the NHS leading to maternity services being overstretched. This can potentially lead to staff being overworked and overtired, making mistakes more likely. A key part of reducing the risk of birth injuries is therefore likely to involve tackling this recruitment crisis.
What to do if you or your child suffered a birth injury
If you or your child were harmed as a result of medical negligence at birth, you may be entitled to substantial compensation. This can be vital to fund the help and support you need, including medical treatment, ongoing care support and specialist equipment, as well as providing recompense for your pain and suffering, lost income and other financial and non-financial losses.
Given the high-value nature of these types of claims, they are often complex and hard-fought by the defendants, so it is essential to have the best possible legal advice and support for every stage of your claim. Working with a legal team who have strong experience can help to ensure you have all the help you need to build a strong case and give you the best chance of securing fair compensation.