Coping with a miscarriage is devastating enough for parents. To discover that a stillbirth may have been caused by the negligence of medical staff charged with the care of mother and child is extremely distressing. The fact that such a tragedy could and should have been avoided makes these cases even more heart-breaking.
Legally, stillbirth describes a baby born without any signs of life having reached 24 of the normal 40 weeks of gestation. If the baby dies before 24 weeks of gestation, this is termed a miscarriage. If a baby is born alive, but tragically passes away shortly after birth, this will be regarded as infant mortality (and is subject to an inquest).
There is often no identifiable reason for a stillbirth. Common causes include hereditary birth defects or the placenta coming away from the wall of the uterus (placental abruption). Expectant mothers with diabetes or high blood pressure are also at risk.
A baby may suffer physical trauma simply as a result of being born. Some injuries have little or no consequence, some can have life-long consequences and some are fatal. Sadly, stillbirth is not uncommon. Recent surveys by the National Audit Office suggest that one in 200 babies in the UK is stillborn or dies within days of birth.
A major cause of stillbirth is reduced oxygen levels to the baby (either while in the uterus or during birth). In 34% of stillbirth cases a significant factor is the misuse or misinterpretation of results from cardiotocography (CTG) equipment used to monitor the baby's heartbeat by staff ranging from midwives to consultants.
Health care specialists have a professional duty to monitor both mother and baby carefully and skilfully to identify any worrying changes and treat without delay. Failure in the care which ends in stillbirth or injury may give rise to a compensation claim.
No amount of money will ever compensate for such a tragic loss. Many bereaved parents take action to try to prevent others having to go through the heartbreak they have experienced.