Childbirth tear claims

When most people find out they are pregnant, it is one of the happiest days of their lives and they focus on the joy that their new baby will bring.

Some women will put off thinking about the birth for as long as possible and then create a wish list aimed at producing a birth with minimal pain and intervention which is over in the shortest possible time. However, some women are aware that both pregnancy and birth can be a dangerous time in a woman’s life and there are many things that can go wrong.

We are often approached by families asking them to help in devastating circumstances when they have either lost a child at birth or their child has experienced a significant injury as a result of something going wrong during delivery. These are the extreme cases and, fortunately, they do not occur for most women giving birth. However, even if your birth goes well you can still sustain injuries which can have a life-altering effect and which could be the subject of a successful claim.

What causes childbirth tearing?

A tear happens when the baby stretches the vagina during birth to the point at which the skin of the perineum strains and then tears. A tear can happen if:

  • A baby weighs over 4kg
  • The mother has had an induction 
  • The mother has had an epidural
  • The labour is long in the second stage
  • The baby is in a occipitoposterior position
  • The baby suffers a shoulder dystocia
  • The mother has to have a midline episiotomy
  • Forceps were used during the delivery.

Frequently asked questions about childbirth tears

What are the symptoms of perineal trauma?

Childbirth tears can have physical and psychological problems if they aren’t treated properly. Severe tears can be extremely painful and women can suffer from incontinence of flatus, stool leakage and excessive pain when sitting or lying down. These symptoms can last for months or even have a permanent effect on some women who have suffered perineal trauma.

How should childbirth tears be treated?

Every tear should be assessed correctly post-delivery to determine the severity of the tear and if the tear involves the anal sphincter.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has set out guidelines for the management of third and fourth-degree tears. These include that the tear should be repaired by an appropriately trained obstetrician, women should be given a broad spectrum of antibiotics for five to seven days, and women should be offered physiotherapy and be reviewed six to twelve weeks after the tear occurred. Find out more about what treatment women should receive after a childbirth tear in our guide to childbirth tears.

I had internal tearing during childbirth - is this medical negligence during childbirth?

Although most perineal tears heal well and become asymptomatic, there are a number of women who are not so lucky. This is not always as a result of medical negligence during childbirth. However, if the medical personnel has not taken the necessary steps to prevent tearing during childbirth, and if it does happen and it isn’t recognised and repaired immediately, then you may be entitled to make a maternity negligence claim.

What types of childbirth tears can I claim for?

As Lawyers we see many different types of potential medical negligence claims for women who have sustained some form of perineal tear during delivery.
It would be very unusual to be in the situation where the very fact that a woman tore is negligent. We often have enquiries from women who have been fearful their whole pregnancy that they are going to have a big baby and therefore feel that they are going to struggle with a vaginal delivery. While having a big baby does carry with it increased risk of tearing or other complications, which may result in tearing, the risk of having a big baby is not, in isolation, usually a reason to offer a woman a caesarean section.

However, at the end of 2011 NICE brought out new guidance on the provision of a caesarean section. In this guidance there is a section which refers to the maternal right to choose in certain situations where certain criteria are met. As such it may be that in the future we see more cases where women have had their request for a caesarean section refused and then find themselves sustaining a significant perineal injury, which could have been avoided had a caesarean section been performed. It may be that for those women they will be able to pursue a successful claim for medical negligence.

It is also not negligent for a baby to suffer a shoulder dystocia, which is where the baby’s head is delivered but their shoulders get stuck above the pelvis. This situation is almost entirely unpredictable and unavoidable as well as being quite unusual. This is a very dangerous situation for both mother and baby and in such a situation, delivering a live baby is the highest priority and it is very unlikely that you could bring a successful claim for suffering a tear in such circumstances.

The most common basis for a tear comes in the repair situation. Repairs are, in the main, carried out in a calm and controlled setting and as such there should be no reason as to why they cannot be carried out in a competent manner by appropriately trained and practiced obstetricians.

It is appropriate for a first or second degree tear to be carried out by an appropriately trained and qualified medical personnel in the delivery room.

However, if there is a risk that a woman has sustained a third or fourth degree tear, then the repair should be carried out in a theatre, in sterile surroundings and by an appropriately trained obstetrician. The tear should be carefully assessed and that assessment should be documented. The repair should be done in accordance with the guidance in relation to the type of suture and appropriate materials and again this should be fully documented. The woman should then be given antibiotics and laxatives and she should have her six-week post-natal check with an obstetrician. If you have been diagnosed with a 3rd or 4th degree tear and this is not the treatment that you received and you are still suffering from problems, then you may have a claim for medical negligence during childbirth.

You may be able to make a claim if you weren’t given an episiotomy where there is likelihood of a serious tear. This surgical tear made at the opening of the vagina during childbirth, to aid a difficult delivery and prevent further injury. If an episiotomy wasn’t used correctly to prevent a tear, you may be able to claim for negligence if you are allowed to tear, or if the extent of the tear was not correctly dealt with or spotted after birth.

The other area where a perineal tear may be the cause of a pregnancy injury claim is during a subsequent pregnancy. If a woman has had a perineal tear, regardless of whether there are ongoing problems, that should be taken into account when considering the method of delivery for her subsequent baby. If a woman is not counselled appropriately or is denied an option such as a caesarean section then, again, there is a possibility that if she goes on to sustain a further perineal injury as a result she may have a claim for medical negligence.

How long do I have to make a claim after a periurethral tear?

If you, or a loved one, think you have suffered medical negligence during childbirth from a tear in the last three years, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

If the incident happened more than three years ago, you will usually not be able to make a claim for compensation. However, exceptions do apply – such as instances where you could not have reasonably known your symptoms were caused by clinical negligence. Our discrete and compassionate lawyers are experienced in the full range of pregnancy injury claims, and will work with you to establish whether you have a claim for compensation.

Why should I trust Thompsons Solicitors with my childbirth tear claim?

Thompsons Solicitors has acted for clients who have experienced a whole range of symptoms after a childbirth tear. We have had clients who have experienced complete breakdowns of their perineum leading to urinary and/or faecal incontinence and in some cases even ending up with a colostomy to give the area time to heal.

If you have experienced a childbirth tear as a result of negligence during or after childbirth, contact our lawyers for free, no-obligation legal advice on making a compensation claim. Call us on 0800 0 224 224 or complete our online claim form to start a claim.