Doctors often use forceps to facilitate the delivery of a baby that gets stuck because the infant needs a little more guidance on its way through the birth canal. However, using forceps during delivery can increase the risk of several common complications.
During a forceps delivery, the obstetrician will insert the forceps one at a time, lock them around the baby’s head, and guide the baby the rest of the way through the birth canal while the mother pushes in rhythm with contractions.
Forceps can often offer much-needed assistance for the infant and mother. However, forceps can also increase the risk of birth injuries when misused.
Contact a medical malpractice lawyer immediately if you or your child suffered forceps delivery complications. You may file a medical malpractice claim to help your family seek compensation for the damages associated with forceps delivery complications.
1. Brain Damage
Using instruments to facilitate a vaginal delivery can significantly increase the risk of brain damage to the infant. The infant’s head proves more vulnerable during delivery than at any other time. During the delivery process, the infant’s skull compresses around the brain to make it possible for the infant to move through the birth canal. The compression created by forceps and other delivery assistance devices can increase the risk of damage to the brain.
Infant brain damage can cause long-term complications. Infants suffering brain damage during delivery may have a higher risk of cerebral palsy or long-term disability.
2. Erb’s Palsy
Forceps delivery can increase the risk that the infant will develop a brachial plexus injury: an injury to the network of nerves between the spinal cord and the arm. Brachial plexus injuries can increase the risk of weakness or lack of movement in the affected arm. It can also, for some infants, cause significant pain.
Erb’s palsy, or the ongoing weakness in the affected limb, usually resolves within the first year of life. However, some patients may have longer-lasting symptoms, including some patients with mild to moderate weakness in the affected limb for much of the rest of their lives.
Parents may need to exercise care when caring for a child with Erb’s palsy. Furthermore, children may need additional support and care to increase the odds that they will recover fully.
3. Skull Fractures
Misusing forceps can result in an increased risk of skull fracture during delivery. An infant with a skull fracture may have several potential problems, including increased irritability and crying or ongoing pain. Skull fractures can increase the risk of brain injury and may require special care in the early days of the infant’s life. In some cases, they may interfere significantly with the relationship between parent and child during those initial days of bonding.
In some cases, using forceps during delivery can increase the infant’s risk of seizures. Seizures can range from relatively minor to severe. Over time, seizures can cause increasing brain damage, interfering with the child’s overall health, wellness, and ability to function in society. Seizures can last for a short time and resolve as the child ages, or they can continue for the rest of the child’s life.
5. Shoulder Dystocia
Shoulder dystocia occurs when the infant’s shoulders get trapped during delivery. During a forceps delivery, the obstetrician may need to apply careful downward pressure to help move the infant through the birth canal. Not only can shoulder dystocia result in a brachial plexus injury if the doctor uses the forceps incorrectly, but it can also result in an increased risk of other injuries to the infant, including infant clavicle fracture, extremely heavy bleeding for the mother or separation of the pubic bones. Shoulder dystocia can also increase the risk of uterine rupture.
In extreme cases, shoulder dystocia can result in umbilical cord compression, which means the infant may not get adequate blood supply during delivery. Lack of blood flow can lead to brain damage and many complications for the infant.
6. Vaginal or Rectal Tearing
A forceps delivery can significantly increase the risk of either vaginal or rectal tearing in the mother.
While vaginal tears commonly occur during childbirth, many women face several serious issues from it, including:
- Ongoing pain
- Urinary incontinence
- Anal incontinence
- Increased blood loss during childbirth
- Delayed return to intercourse after childbirth
Some patients who experience vaginal tearing during childbirth may suffer long-term pain and other symptoms that interfere with sexual function and normal comfort. Patients with an episiotomy, which doctors may recommend prior to a forceps delivery, may have more severe symptoms than those that naturally tear naturally during childbirth.
7. Pelvic Organ Prolapse
A forceps delivery can increase the risk of pelvic organ prolapse in the mother. In a pelvic organ prolapse, the uterus will sag out of position, leading to poor body image, bowel or urinary incontinence, and sexual challenges. Many patients find that the long-term impact of those symptoms can cause considerable emotional distress, especially if symptoms impact the sexual connection with their partner.
What to Do After Forceps Delivery Complications
Doctors may need to carefully evaluate the need for a forceps delivery and decide how to handle that need appropriately, in a way that will offer the best outcome for both the infant and mother.
In some cases, doctors may misjudge: they may pull out forceps too early to move the delivery process along, even though the infant continues to do fine, or they might try a forceps delivery when other intervention, including a C-section, could offer the greatest benefit to the mother. Furthermore, doctors with inadequate training or experience or who do not exercise adequate care may fail to use the forceps correctly, resulting in significant injury to the mother or infant.