Complications during child birth, such as a large baby, a breech position, or prolonged labor, sometimes require the use of forceps to safely deliver the baby. However, if proper medical procedures are not followed while using forceps, birth injuries such as nerve or brain damage can result. Forceps use in childbirth is permissible when the baby appears to be in fetal distress, when the mother is having trouble pushing, or when the positioning of the baby in the birth canal is incorrect. The structure of the forceps allow them to clamp on the sides of the baby’s head, giving the doctor a steady grip but also putting the baby at risk for damage if the procedure is performed improperly.
If done correctly, a forceps delivery can save the baby’s life or prevent it becoming severely hypoxic, or oxygen deprived. If an infant goes without oxygen for too long, severe and permanent brain damage can occur. Likewise, use of forceps might be the only way to deliver the child or protect its head because of improper positioning. Because of the vulnerability of a baby’s skull, it is extremely important to care for the head. If a doctor does not take necessary steps to shelter the skull, brain damage can result.
Conversely, forceps delivery can also hurt the baby, sometimes permanently. Some degree of force is always employed in forceps delivery so risk is inherent in the procedure. Specific dangers include facial nerve damage, skull fractures, and cerebral palsy. Babies are not the only parties at risk for complications during forceps births. Mothers face increased risks for lacerations, urinary tract infections, and rectum injuries.
The most severe risks of forceps deliveries to babies include facial nerve damage and cerebral palsy. With facial nerve damage, permanent facial asymmetry may occur, especially evident when the child laughs or cries. Cerebral Palsy develops when damage to the cerebrum of the brain occurs, resulting in motor control difficulties. Although it is a non-progressive disorder, meaning the brain damage does worsen with age, there is no known cure. Cerebral Palsy is considered the second most expensive developmental disability to manage over the course of a lifetime, with the average lifetime cost nearing about $921,000. Its exact cause is not known but it is almost always linked with birth trauma, including improper forceps delivery, as well as hypoxia, premature birth, multiple births, and certain infections in the mother both before and after birth.
If you are interested in learning more about forceps deliveries, this site about traumatic birth injuries can help.