January 17, 2024

What support is available if you have suffered birth trauma?

For those that suffer a maternal injury or birth trauma, it can be difficult to know where to turn for support, leaving many new parents feeling isolated. With NHS services becoming more and more stretched, I think it is important to set out what support is available for families affected by birth trauma and maternal injury. 

Understanding The Circumstances of Your Birth

If you have experienced a traumatic birth, processing and understanding what happened is often the first step to take. Below are some steps open to you to assist with understanding what happened. 

Debrief service

Some hospitals offer a birth debriefing service. This is when you can talk to a doctor or midwife about your labour and birth, go through your maternity notes and ask any questions you need to understand what happened. 

Your midwife can refer you for this service when you are still on the post-natal ward, but you can also access this service after you have left. Contact your maternity unit or ask your health visitor or midwife what’s available locally 

You do not need to worry if you do not feel ready to go over your birth experience for months, or even years. You can access this service when you are ready 

You can use the service alone, or your partner can go with you. However, partners cannot access the debriefing service alone because it involves going through the confidential medical records of the person who gave birth. 

Accessing your health records

Many women who have had a traumatic birth want to see their medical records, either to find out more detail about what happened during labour or birth or because they are considering a complaint or legal action. 

You have the right to your records under the Data Protection Act 2018, which implements the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights 

You can ask your GP, midwife, doctor or health visitor to obtain your records so that you can see them. You do not need a form to do this, simply ask them at any time. You will need to go in person to the hospital or GP surgery to see your records 

You can also make a formal request to see your records. This is called a subject access request, and you make it in writing. You have this right under the Data Protection Act 2018. You usually send your subject access request to the NHS Trust’s medical records manager for maternity records. You can find the address to send your request to on the website of your local NHS Trust or Board. Citizens Advice also have standard letters you can use to seek your records. Access one of these here.  

You should not normally have to pay a fee to see copies of your records. You can be charged a fee if you are asking for a lot of information, or the information will take a lot of time and effort to process. This is unlikely to apply to maternity records. You can be charged a fee if you want extra copies of your records 

As noted above, your hospital may run a ‘birth afterthoughts’ or ‘birth reflections’ service, where you can go through your notes and discuss what happened. You can find out if your hospital runs this service from the PALS team, whose details will be on the Trust’s website, or from your maternity unit. Or you can ask your GP or health visitor to help you. 

Find out more about your legal rights in pregnancy and childbirth

Our team outline what you need to know about your legal rights when you are expecting a child and during their birth.

Making a Complaint

Preparing your complaint

If you are thinking about making a complaint, it is a good idea to make a note of your experience as soon as you can. You can also ask anyone who was with you to write down what they saw or heard, and give you a copy. Prior to making the complaint, it may assist to see a copy of yours, or your baby’s, healthcare records. 

How to complain to the NHS

You can complain to the NHS Trust responsible for your care. Your NHS Trust will have a complaints team, called the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) team. 

You can address your complaint to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service or complaints team, or to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust. You can also send a copy of the complaint to the head of midwifery, the director of women’s services, the director of nursing and/or the consultant responsible for your care 

We have some hints and tips about how to write a complaint letter, with an example complaint letter that may be helpful here.

As outlined in the link above: in your complaint, you should include as much detail as possible. Give the names of the people involved in your care, if you can. 

Be clear about what you want to happen as a result of your complaint. For example, do you want an apology, a change in policy/procedure, staff to undertake training? It can be helpful to list any actions you want taken as bullet points at the start of your letter. 

When you make a complaint, the NHS statutory complaints procedure, NHS complaints policy and patient guidance sets out what happens next, though NHS Trusts will also have their local procedures. Your local Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) should be able to give you a copy of the NHS Trust complaints procedure and contact details 

Your complaint should be acknowledged within three working days though, and should confirm that they have received your complaint and say what will happen next. They should give you a timeline for a response to your complaint. 

NHS bodies must investigate your complaint speedily and efficiently. They must keep you informed about the progress of your investigations. 

You may be invited to a meeting at the hospital, surgery or clinic to discuss your complaint but the NHS body should respond to your complaint in writing. The hospital must usually send its response to your complaint within six months of you making the complaint. If they will not be able to do this, they will have to tell you why. In the response, the hospital should set out how they looked at your complaint and what conclusions they reached. They should inform you if they plan to take any action because of your complaint. If it is accepted that mistakes were made, then they should apologise. 

Finally, you should be aware that there is a time limit for making a complaint; you have 12 months from the date of the treatment you are complaining about. However, the deadline can be extended if you have good reasons for not complaining within the time limit, and it is still possible for the complaint to be investigated fairly and effectively. 

Can I take legal action?

If you feel that your complaint has not been listened to or properly dealt with, you can take legal action. 

You should be aware that there are time limits for taking legal action for medical negligence though. A claim by, or on behalf of, the person who gave birth must be issued within three years of the birth. A child will usually be able to make a legal claim until their 21st birthday. If a child does not have the mental capacity to make a claim, then there is no time limit for making a claim. 

There are a number of organisations that can help you with identifying a solicitor to deal with your case. The Law Society offers assistance with finding a suitably qualified medical negligence solicitor and AVMAa charity that promotes better patient safety and justice for people who have suffered avoidable harm can also assist. Both organisations have details of panel solicitors who have been accredited by them as having the appropriate experience in conducting birth injury claims work. 

Essentially, it is important to identify a solicitor who specialises in birth injury and maternal injury claims, you should not be afraid to ask questions about their experience and expertise in dealing with cases like yours. 

Accessing treatment following birth injury

If you have suffered birth trauma or birth injury, then accessing the right support is key. It is important to have a support network around you and someone you can confide in 

Outside your family and friends circle, there is a lot of support available through charities dedicated to supported those who have been affected by birth trauma 

Make Birth Better offer support for both parents and professionals impacted by trauma have some very helpful resources on their website makebirthbetter.org. They also have a really helpful video about accessing medical treatment, which can be accessed here.

If you do not feel able to talk to your healthcare professional about how you are feeling, the PANDAS Foundation UK has recently partnered up with Make Birth Better and Dr Punam Krishan to put together a letter to help mothers communicate how they are feeling to healthcare professionals, to encourage better treatment from the outset. You can find the letters to download here.

You may also have suffered a physical injury such as an obstetric tear. The MASIC Foundation is the only multidisciplinary UK charity to support women who have suffered severe injuries during childbirth, otherwise known as OASI (Obstetric Anal Sphincter Injuries). The charity is run by injured women and healthcare professionals, who are committed to better detection and prevention of injury during childbirth. The MASIC website has a number of useful resources about obtaining support on the NHS, recommending pelvic physiotherapists and consultants, and also providing support to women who have suffered these injuries, in the form of face-to-face groups and also in-person support days. 


Useful resources

There are now a number of excellent charities devoted to supporting women and their families who have suffered birth trauma and birth injury. The below details some useful resources: 


    The MASIC Foundation, as outlined above, supports women who have suffered obstetric anal sphincter injuries in childbirth: masic.org.uk 

  • Make Birth Better

    Make Birth Better supports both parents and professionals impacted by birth trauma, offering a wide range of training support resources: makebirthbetter.org


    PANDAS Foundation supports parents and families affected by perinatal mental illness: pandasfoundation.org.uk

  • Birth Rights

    Birth Rights provide information about your rights in pregnancy and childbirth: www.birthrights.org.uk

  • Birth Trauma Association

    Birth Trauma Association, founded and run by women who have experienced birth trauma, and offers support to women and their families who have experienced traumatic birth: www.birthtraumaassociation.org

  • Tommys

    Tommys is a charity supporting those who have suffered baby loss. They provide expert, midwife-led advice for parents before, during and after pregnancy, working towards safer, healthier pregnancies: www.tommys.org

  • Sands

    Sands supports parents and families who have experienced baby loss: www.sands.org.uk

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