Benefits and risks when forceps are used during childbirth

Although most expectant mothers will not have to deal with forceps being used during delivery, it is helpful to be aware of this tool in case the need arises. A New York physician may discuss a variety of situations if a baby's weight is significant or if a mother has had a prior difficult delivery because of positioning issues or baby size. Even if these scenarios are not discussed as the due date draws near, an understanding of the process may help with stress if the need arises.

Forceps appear much like salad spoons and are used to guide a baby's head if progress is impeded. A tired mother might reach the point at which she can no longer push. A medical issue could make further pushing risky for the mother or for the child. Signs of stress in the baby might indicate the need for intervention with forceps. An extended period of pushing may also indicate the need for forceps to be used.

Forceps cannot be used unless the baby has progressed down the birth canal sufficiently. The position of the head and face is also important. Caution should be exercised to avoid injuries. Although some potential birth injuries related to the use of forceps are minor, nerve damage or bleeding inside the head can be quite serious, posing the risk of potentially long-term consequences. In some cases, a cesarean section will be performed if the use of forceps is unsuccessful. In other cases, a physician may insist on a C-section instead of resorting to the use of forceps so that the well-being of a baby is not jeopardized.

A birth injury such as brachial plexus can occur in some cases involving the pulling of a baby from the birth canal. If such an injury occurs because of the misuse of forceps or because obvious risks were ignored, a parent might have grounds for a medical malpractice claim.

Source: National Institutes of Health, "Assisted delivery with forceps", accessed on Jan. 13, 2015
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