April 14, 2003
A PERTH court has dismissed a case against a doctor accused of failing to advise a woman to have a caesarian section before she gave birth to a five kg baby.
Tammy Michelle Sheppard, 30, accused general practitioner Pauline Joy Swan of negligence after giving birth vaginally to a boy weighing 11 pounds 13 ounces (5.3kg).
Ms Sheppard claimed she should have been advised to have a caesarian section, because the vaginal birth of such a large baby left her with health problems including bladder dysfunction causing urinary incontinence.
The mother had told the West Australian District Court that Dr Swan, a GP who was qualified in obstetrics, had said the baby, born in 1998, would be about seven to 7.5 pounds (3.1 to 3.4kg).
"She didn't expect the baby to be large at all," Ms Sheppard said.
She said she did not have any internal examinations until the end of her pregnancy when she was told that if a natural birth did not go well she would have to have a caesarian.
The court was told the baby's 20 hour delivery was exhausting and difficult for Ms Sheppard, and the doctor eventually resorted to using a vacuum suction device to free the baby from its mother's womb.
The doctor then cut Ms Sheppard's perineum before she "continued to pull vigorously on the vacuum suction".
The baby was eventually freed with the help of a midwife, but Ms Sheppard was distressed because she did not hear her baby cry.
"She says she briefly thought the child was dead," Judge Hal Jackson said.
"It is clear the plaintiff suffered some pain and discomfort and disability."
However, Judge Jackson said he was not satisfied there had been a breach of the duty of care.
He said the traumatic birth of the large baby had deeply affected both Ms Sheppard and Dr Swan.
"It is clear that the plaintiff felt exhausted, emotional and worried for some time after giving birth and that she felt let down by the defendant's failure to explain matters to her afterwards," he said.
He noted Dr Swan ceased obstetric practice shortly after the incident.
Very little of her complaints appear to differ from a normal, natural birth. Finally a good call from the law courts, perhaps we will see more in the future.