Not every birth goes smoothly, but medical devices and procedures can assist with making a difficult birth a happy one. A familiar medical device with a long history of use in births is the forceps. Unfortunately, sometimes even a device as commonly used as forceps can cause birth injury.
A forceps is essentially a long tong-like device that comes in many different designs and sizes with which a doctor can grasp a baby’s head while it is still in the birth canal. When birth is not progressing as quickly as it should, the tool can help move the birth along by the doctor pulling moderately, but not forcefully, on the baby. Use of forceps in birth is sometimes called “assisted delivery.”
Forceps may also be used to quicken delivery when either the baby or the mother is in medical distress. Also, they will sometimes be used to try to turn a baby facing the wrong way.
Evidence exists that forceps were in use even 3,500 years ago, although at that time they were used to remove deceased babies. In about 1600, people began using forceps to assist with live births. In the early 1900s, forceps were commonly prescribed to move babies through delivery when mothers were heavily drugged and unable to provide the pushing needed to deliver their babies.
The inability to adequately push can still be a problem today when a mother has an epidural to deaden pain and feeling during labor and delivery, making the use of forceps more likely. However, advances in medicine have lessened the need for forceps over time. According to WebMD, forceps deliveries are only about 3 percent of all U.S. births.
Medical practitioners have varying experience and skill levels with using forceps. Discuss this with your doctor before you are in delivery so you are comfortable with his or her approach to and experience with forceps.
The decision whether to use forceps or perform a cesarean birth in certain situations can be difficult. And, some doctors and mothers choose to proceed automatically with a C-section in close cases to avoid potential forceps complications.
The use of forceps can injure the baby, usually not seriously, but sometimes gravely. Some of the more commonly associated birth injuries can be:
- Swelling or bruising on the baby’s face that normally heals within days
- Cuts that usually heal quickly, but are at risk of infection, may be treated with bandages or stitches
- Intracranial hemorrhage, or bleeding under the skull
- Subaponeurotic hemorrhage, or bleeding under muscle-connecting tissue in the skull, an emergency situation that calls for a blood transfusion
- Injury to the facial nerve causing freezing to one side of the face that usually heals within a week or so, but can occasionally be permanent
- Fracturing of the skull or collar bone
If your child was injured during birth from the use of forceps, be sure to discuss the injuries with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer who can advise you of your rights and possible legal remedies.