Birth Injuries

Forceps Delivery Complications

March 21, 2022 by James McHugh, Jr.
Forceps Delivery Complications

While pregnancy and childbirth come with certain medical risks, there are some dangers families should be able to avoid. While many families expecting a new little one plan for their ideal birth scenario, things generally don’t go as planned and the medical team will have to adapt according to the needs of both mother and baby. Should labor and delivery fail to progress, your obstetrician may suggest the use of assisted delivery devices. While these implements can save a mother from having a C-section, they can also cause forceps delivery complications. Forceps have been used in assisting childbirth for many years, but there are growing concerns that forceps deliveries present more risks than other options for both the child and the mother.

Why Are Forceps Used During Childbirth?

Forceps are a metal instrument used in childbirth to help the baby travel through the birth canal during a challenging delivery. It’s crucial that the baby’s head and face are in the right position to minimize risks. A forceps delivery is considered an assisted delivery most often used to speed up labor if the mother or baby is showing any signs of distress. If labor is prolonged – as it often is for first-time mothers – your doctor may use forceps to encourage delivery and avoid a Caesarean section. There are a variety of related reasons why a physician may use forceps during childbirth, including:

  • The baby is experiencing fetal distress and delivery needs to be expedited
  • The baby is stuck in the birth canal
  • The baby’s body position is unfavorable and needs to be rotated or turned
  • The mother is having trouble pushing

The use of forceps and vacuum extraction to help deliver babies has declined in recent years because of the dangers they present to both mothers in delivery as well as their babies. In fact, using these implements during delivery decreased approximately 21 percent from 1995 to 2014. Despite this decrease in use, the number of associated birth injuries resulting from their use is actually on the rise.

At least one study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed almost two million single-child hospital births from 2004 and 2015 and found the use of forceps and vacuum extraction during delivery is declining, but the risk of injury associated with these devices is rising at a rate of seven percent in first-time mothers. Forceps appear to be the most dangerous instrument, as the rate of injury associated with their use during childbirth increased from 19 percent in 2004 to over 26 percent in 2014.

C-Section Risks vs. Forceps Delivery Complications

Instead of using forceps or vacuums, many hospitals have begun to perform an increasing number of C-sections when natural birth becomes challenging or ceases to be a viable option. The problem with replacing assisted deliveries with C-sections is that Caesarians present their own risks to mothers and their babies. The risks of Caesarian delivery triggered a full-circle return to some hospitals recommending using forceps or vacuums again during delivery. During the timeframe when C-sections became the norm, many doctors weren’t properly trained on how to use forceps or vacuums. 

Neither C-sections nor forceps deliveries are without risks to both the mother and the baby; however, these risks can be greatly reduced by a knowledgeable and skilled doctor. When doctors do not obtain the proper training in the use of forceps, they risk the lives of their patients.

Risks of Forceps Delivery

While forceps are sometimes required for safe delivery, if they are not used properly, they can cause devastating damage to the mother and/or the child. The mother can suffer tears, ruptures, anemia, and pelvic organ prolapse. Children born via forceps delivery can suffer facial injuries, eye trauma, seizures, spinal injuries, brain injuries, and even death. While all pregnancies have risks, forceps-assisted deliveries greatly increase the likelihood of birth trauma. With the potential to do so much harm to the child, it’s important for patients to talk to their doctors about forceps delivery complications well before they go into labor. Some possible forceps delivery complications include:

Risks for the Mother

  • Perineal Pain: Pain in the tissue in between your vagina and your anus after delivery.
  • Genital Tears: While tears can be a common product of vaginal delivery, using forceps can increase the risk and severity of lower genital tract tears.
  • Urinary or Fecal Issues: Forceps delivery complications can include short-term or long-term urinary or fecal incontinence and/or difficulty urinating or emptying your bladder.
  • Bladder and Urethra Injuries: The bladder and/or the urethra – the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body – can be damaged.
  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Weakening of the muscles and ligaments supporting the pelvic organs can cause them to drop lower into the pelvis and in some cases even extend out of the vaginal canal.
  • Uterine Rupture: If the uterine wall is torn, the baby and/or placenta can be pushed into the mother’s abdominal cavity.

Risks for the Child

  • Facial Injuries: The pressure of applying the forceps to the baby’s head and face can cause facial injuries – including eye trauma – and even temporary weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles (palsy).
  • Head Injuries: In severe cases, the baby can suffer a skull fracture and even bleeding within the skull, both of which can be catastrophic for a sensitive newborn.
  • Cerebral Palsy: A particularly devastating effect of a forceps delivery can involve brain damage that causes cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is diagnosed when a baby has one or more tight muscle groups that limit its movement. While the symptoms of cerebral palsy can vary greatly depending on the severity and location of the injury, some of the most common symptoms include poor coordination, stiff muscles, weak muscles, tremors, trouble swallowing, and seizures. Because there is no known cure, the financial and emotional burden of this diagnosis will last a lifetime.

Philadelphia Forceps Delivery Injury Attorneys

The health of the mother and baby is at risk when forceps are used during delivery. If a baby was injured during delivery with forceps, it may have resulted from the negligence of the doctor and/or hospital staff. In birth injury cases like these, parents can choose to file a lawsuit against the responsible parties. In Pennsylvania, you have a limited amount of time to file a claim if you suspect your child has suffered a birth injury caused by forceps delivery complications. The medical malpractice attorneys at Lopez McHugh have been holding medical providers and medical facilities of all types responsible for birth injuries for over 30 years. Babies with birth trauma can face a lifetime of medical care and mothers can also suffer permanent damage themselves. If you underwent a forceps delivery in a Philadelphia hospital and your child suffered a birth injury, contact Lopez McHugh LLP today.

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