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Forceps delivery injuries include bruising, facial palsies, and even brain damage and cerebral palsy in newborns. Doctors use forceps to aid delivery but use too much force in some cases. Inappropriate use of this instrument can result in lasting harm to a child.
Why Do Doctors Use Forceps?
Forceps delivery is the delivery of a baby with the assistance of forceps to gently pull and guide the baby’s head from the birth canal.
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Another reason to use forceps is when the baby is facing the wrong way as it emerges from the birth canal. If the face is up, for instance, forceps can be used to turn the baby around.
Forceps may also be used by the delivering doctor or midwife if there is a sign that the baby is struggling, such as a change in a heartbeat, and the infant needs to be delivered immediately, or if there are immediate health problems in the mother.
When Is Forceps Use Inappropriate?
Doctors train for many years to make the best decisions for their patients. But sometimes, they make mistakes and use instruments at the wrong time or in an inappropriate way.
In most situations that may lead to a forceps delivery, a Cesarean section is also an option. There are some important reasons why a surgical procedure is a better option than using forceps:
- If the baby has a condition that affects the strength of its bones, the use of forceps is likely to cause damage.
- If the complications arise while the baby is still too far inside the womb and has not progressed enough into the birth canal, forceps may not be the best choice to guide it out. Sometimes the position of the baby does not permit the use of forceps, such as when the arm or shoulder precedes the head.
- If the size of the mother’s pelvis will make delivery difficult, a doctor may choose a Cesarean section over pulling the baby out with forceps.
What Are the Risks of a Forceps Delivery?
The use of forceps is a decision that a doctor or medical team has to make, but the mother may also have some say in the matter. As complications arise, she may be given a choice to undergo a forceps delivery or a Cesarean section.
There may be little time for the pros and cons to be explained, so it helps for mothers to know in advance what the risks are of forceps use during delivery:
- Eye trauma
- Facial palsy, which is muscle weakness in the face
- Facial injuries from the pressure of the forceps
- Skull fractures that may cause bleeding in the brain
- Brain damage
- Nerve damage
The risk of injuries caused by forceps is real, but most injuries are minor and resolve with a little bit of time and healing. Serious injuries are not common, but they are possible and can lead to permanent disabilities. There are also risks for the mother:
- Tears and wounds
- Pain after delivery
- Blood loss and anemia
- Difficulty urinating
- Uterine rupture
- Bladder or urethra damage
- Pelvic organ prolapse, caused by weakened muscles in the pelvic region
Forceps Delivery, Cerebral Palsy, and Permanent Disabilities
Serious and permanent damage from a forceps delivery is rare but possible. All it takes is excessive pressure on an infant’s delicate skull, and there could be irreparable brain damage.
There are risks with Cesarean section births too, but it is important to know that trauma to the baby is more common after an instrument-aided delivery than a Cesarean section.
Cerebral palsy is an example of the kind of permanent disability that may result from a forceps delivery. The pressure on a baby’s brain can cause brain damage, the underlying cause of cerebral palsy. Depending on the severity of the damage, this may lead to mild, moderate, or severe cerebral palsy, for which there is no cure.
Cerebral palsy isn’t the only possible damage that may result from a forceps delivery. If the pulling of the forceps on the head stretches the nerves of the brachial plexus, a child may end up with
These are all conditions that affect the movement and sensation in the arms and hands. They may be mild, and a child may recover from them, or they can be lasting and cause permanent disability in an arm.
Are Forceps Injuries Medical Malpractice?
If you have complications during delivery, your medical team is responsible for making the best choice about how to proceed. Sometimes, choosing forceps turns out to be the wrong decision, and you or your child may end up with permanent damage.
If your doctor had enough information to know that a Cesarean section would have been less risky, or if they used the forceps incorrectly or too forcefully, your child’s condition could result from medical malpractice.
Parents have filed medical malpractice lawsuits against physicians who botched forceps deliveries and won compensation and justice.
In one extreme case, a woman in Texas won $10.3 million after her child suffered severe brain damage and died five days after being delivered with forceps.
In another case, the mother won $12 million and the child $7.6 million after both were severely damaged from a forceps delivery.
The baby was left with brain damage, and the mother with lifelong physical tissue damage and pain. The delivering resident used forceps when the baby was too high up in the birth canal, a situation that warrants a Cesarean section.
If you or your child has complications because of a forceps delivery, and you think medical malpractice or negligence may have played a part, you have a right to seek justice and compensation through legal pathways.
A birth injury or cerebral palsy lawyer can help you make your case by gathering evidence, filing the lawsuit, and advocating for you and your child in settlement discussions or in court.
- Forceps Delivery. (2018, September 15). Mayo Clinic
Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/forceps-delivery/basics/risks/prc-20014741
- Forceps Delivery in Modern Obstetric Practice. (29, May). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC420176/
- Baby Olivia's Mother Awarded $10.2 Million in Wrongful Death. (n.d.). Beaumont Enterprise.
Retrieved from: https://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/article/Baby-Olivia-s-mother-awarded-10-2-million-in-9146181.php
- Woman, Child Get $19 Million for Botched 'Forceps' Delivery. (2015, March 25). Fox News.
Retrieved from: https://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/07/02/woman-child-get-1-million-for-botched-forceps-delivery.html