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Forceps during delivery

You dream of the perfect delivery and birth of your baby, but your bun in the oven may have plans of his own. Although forceps are used less often nowadays, it is still a possibility your baby will need a little help from these obstetrical instruments.

Woman giving birth

Before you make your way into the delivery room, give yourself a little peace of mind by learning when and how forceps are used during the delivery of your baby, including common concerns and possible risks.

What are forceps?

Forceps are instruments used to help a physician guide your baby during vaginal delivery. Consisting of two identical metal pieces that resemble tongs, they cradle your baby’s head to help “pull” your infant from the vaginal canal to the outside world.

When are forceps used?

According to a National Vital Statistics Report, forceps or vacuum delivery, also known as assisted delivery, was reported for 4.5 percent of vaginal births in the United States, showing that use of forceps during delivery is not a common method of delivery.

However, the use of forceps during delivery and birth may be recommended for a number of reasons during the pushing stage of your delivery, including fetal distress, lack of progress through your pelvis, exhaustion from pushing or if your baby is breech.

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How are forceps used?

Your OB-GYN will insert the forceps into your vagina and around the sides of your baby’s head. When a contraction hits and you push, she will grab the handles and gently pull your infant down and out of the birth canal. However, “There are a number of things which must happen in order to perform forceps,” explains Dr. Rob Atlas M.D., chairman OB-GYN, Mercy Medical Center. “The patient must be fully dilated, must be fully informed about the procedure, risks and benefits, the bladder and rectum should be emptied and the fetal position altitude all must be known in order to perform the procedure.”

Common concerns with forceps delivery

Fear has been engrained into parents-to-be about the possible side effects of a forceps delivery, but permanent or fatal results are relatively rare. “Numerous studies have been performed assessing the risk of forceps vs. cesarean section and outlet and low forceps have very little risk,” advises Dr. Atlas. “There are really no long term sequella to the use of forceps.”

Temporary side effects from forceps delivery can include:

  • Facial or head bruises which commonly clear within days
  • Scalp blisters on your newborn’s head which heal within a few weeks
  • Temporary facial nerve injury to your newborn

Risks of using forceps during vaginal delivery

Commonly, the risks of using forceps during delivery and birth are associated with the mother. Beyond the usual tearing or episiotomy, forceps increase your risk of tears in your cervix, vagina, perineum and anus. But the good news is that in time, the stitched, damaged tissue and possible incontinence will heal — just as it would with an unassisted vaginal delivery.

Learn how to avoid an episiotomy and/or tearing during birth >>

Keep in mind

Should a forceps delivery attempt prove unsuccessful, be prepared to likely undergo a cesarean section versus a vaginal delivery. But armed with your newfound knowledge of this assisted delivery method, hopefully you can go into your labor and birth experience with a little less mystery and anxiety about forceps during delivery.

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