Forceps Injuries

When dangerous complications occur during the birthing process, forceps can be used for immediate delivery of the baby. They have been used to aid childbirth for centuries, dating back to the 1840s. However, prevention of forceps injuries requires extreme caution. Excessive pressure, improper placement, and other mistakes during delivery can have devastating effects on a mother or newborn’s health. Forceps injuries range from minor bruising to severe brain damage or death.

Use of Forceps

Forceps are a tong-shaped metal device designed to gently grasp the head of the fetus inside the womb. They feature two curved branches that position around the head to provide a firm grip. Once positioned, they can be used to rotate an improperly positioned fetus or guide it through the birth canal.

Numerous delivery complications can lead to the use of forceps, involving:

Types of Forceps Injuries

Due to the invasive nature of this type of assisted childbirth, several forceps injuries can occur to both a mother and her child. Standard forceps injuries, such as bruising or marks, occur in roughly 17% of newborns delivered using the aid of forceps. Temporary or permanent facial nerve damagecan result from forceps injuries.

Forceps injuries to newborns include:

Forceps injuries to delivering mothers include:

Preventing Forceps Injuries

Specific guidelines are in place to ensure that practitioners use forceps appropriately, in an effort to prevent forceps injuries. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) classifies forceps delivery based on the level and position of the fetus’ head inside the womb.

Standard guidelines for prevention of forceps injuries require that:

Furthermore, the practitioner must be experienced and know how to identify and manage complicationsto prevent forceps injuries. Forceps are inappropriate in cases of cephalopelvic disproportion, or when the fetal head is too large to travel through the mother’s birth canal. Other delivery options, such as emergency C-section, may be considered.



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DeLancey, J O. “Childbirth, Continence, and The Pelvic Floor.” The New England Journal of Medicine 329.26 (1993): 1956-1957. MEDLINE with Full Text.Web. 26 Nov. 2012.
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