Bendigo coronial inquest begins examining home birth death

AN INQUEST at Bendigo Coroner’s Court into the death of a baby during a home birth heard the parents believed in minimal medical intervention during birth.

Thomas Fremantle was delivered in a home birth at a farm 35 kilometres from of Bendigo, in Woodstock West, on October 19, 2010.

He was transferred to Bendigo Health after the birth, then moved to Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, where he died on October 22.

Independent midwife Helen Sandner, Bendigo Community Health Services’ Dr Christina Sasse and Dr Christine Armstrong and Bendigo Health’s Dr Malinda Gajanayaka gave evidence yesterday.

The court heard Thomas’s parents, Gary and Katrina Fremantle, had one hospital birth and two home births before Thomas. 

The first child was stillborn in 2003. 

Their third daughter, born in 2007 in a home birth, had a complication called shoulder dystocia, where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone.

The baby was taken to Bendigo Health shortly after the birth and made a full recovery.

When Mrs Fremantle became pregnant with Thomas, the four medical professionals said they told Mr and Mrs Fremantle repeatedly that the chances of having shoulder dystocia increased significantly in subsequent births.

The professionals were also concerned that baby Thomas was quite large, increasing the risk of shoulder dystocia. Mrs and Mr Fremantle were encouraged to register for a birth at Bendigo Health.

Dr Sasse said Mr Fremantle distrusted hospitals because of their experience with their first child and the treatment they received at emergency after their third daughter was transferred there.

The couple decided they wanted a home birth with minimal medical intervention and enlisted the help of a woman from Queensland called Claire Hall. Dr Armstrong said the medical professionals involved could not have done any more to outline the risks of a home birth to Mr and Mrs Armstrong.

“There were several options offered and discussed and in my opinion it was ultimately their decision,” she said. “We can’t decide anything for them. It remains their decision. 

“It must have been fairly obvious this was risky, especially with the family nearly an hour away from the hospital.”

The inquest continues today.

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