Forceps is an instrument that can be used to help deliver a baby when assistance is needed. Forceps-assisted delivery is usually done during a vaginal delivery, but the instrument may also be used during a Cesarean section if necessary. The forceps grip the baby’s head and is used to pull and guide the baby out of the birth canal.
A forceps delivery is not uncommon, but it is being used less often. When complications arise, an obstetrician more often will choose to use a vacuum extractor, which serves the same purpose as forceps, or to perform a Cesarean section, the surgical removal of the baby from the womb. Forceps may injure a baby in a number of ways, including causing brain damage, which may lead to lifelong disabilities, like cerebral palsy.
Why Forceps Delivery
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. Every mother hopes to be able to deliver her baby naturally, and without aid, but this is not always possible and for safety reasons, other options have to be considered. One main reason that forceps may be used is that labor is not progressing, no matter how much the mother is pushing.
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, nurse, or midwife, if there is a sign that the baby is struggling, such as a change in heartbeat, and it needs to be delivered immediately, or if there are immediate health problems in the mother.
When Forceps Delivery Should Not Be Used
In most of the situations that may lead to a forceps delivery, a Cesarean section is also an option. There are some important reasons why a doctor may choose not to use forceps and to perform the surgical procedure instead. For instance, 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 Cesarean section may be chosen over forcing the baby out with forceps.
The Risks of 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. She may be given the choice as complications arise, 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 having forceps used during delivery. Risks to the baby include:
- 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
While serious and permanent damage from a forceps delivery is rare, it is always 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 forceps delivery. If the pulling of the forceps on the head stretches the nerves of the brachial plexus, a child may end up with Erb’s palsy, brachial plexus palsy, or shoulder dystocia, all conditions that affect the movement and sensation in the arms and hands. These may be mild and a child may recover from them, or they can be lasting and cause permanent disability in an arm.
Medical Malpractice with Forceps
If you have complications during delivery, your medical team has a responsibility to make 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 and painful damage. If your doctor had enough information to know that a Cesarean section would have been less risky, or if he or she used the forceps incorrectly or too forcefully, your child’s condition could be the result of 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 suffered because of a forceps delivery, and you think that 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. No one should have to live with the consequences of a botched forceps delivery, and those who made poor decisions should be held accountable