Can the Rough Handling of Forceps During Delivery Lead to Neurological Injury?

forcepsForceps are a tool to help with stalled labor. Forceps look a little bit like salad tongs, with two spoons to cup the baby’s head. They help guide the baby out of the birth canal, making labor easier on the new mother.

Why do We use Forceps?

Forceps can help in the delivery room in certain scenarios. They are not meant to pull the baby, but rather to guide the baby out of the birth canal. Some of the situations that call for forceps include when:

  • Complications with baby’s heartbeat or vital signs occur
  • The mother becomes too tired to keep pushing effectively
  • The mother’s health is at risk
  • There are underlying health conditions that require assistance
  • The baby turns in the wrong direction

If labor or delivery needs a lot of help, a cesarean section is generally a better choice. But in the cases that require mild assistance, forceps can help to deliver the baby safely.

What are the Risks of Forceps?

Like any medical device, forceps have their risks. When used properly, they can assist with the process, but when rushed and mishandled, forceps can cause more damage than benefits. Forceps are standard issue in most delivery rooms, meaning they can end up in the hands of someone without proper training. This is where the problems start. Risks are real for both mothers and babies and can create complications during birth.

Risks for the mother include:

  • A ruptured uterus
  • Bladder injuries
  • Vaginal tears
  • Sudden blood loss and anemia
  • A weakening of the pelvic muscles

Risks for the baby include:

  • Injuries to the face
  • Damage to the eyes
  • Facial palsy (usually temporary)
  • Facial nerve damage
  • Skull fractures and bleeding
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Seizures
  • Bruising

All of these can happen if the health care provider does not use tools correctly. Most OB/GYN doctors undergo strict training to use forceps, but in some cases, they can cause permanent and life-altering injuries.

What are the Symptoms of Forceps Injury?

A forceps injury is easy to diagnose. Typically, you can see bruising on the infant’s skin, face, or head that matches marks from the forceps. Other symptoms can include strange behavior, bleeding, a strangely shaped head, seizures, skull fractures, and bleeding in the brain. Treat any of these symptoms with caution and address them immediately with a medical professional.

What is Your Doctor’s Comfort Level With Forceps?

Before entering the delivery room, you should know and understand your doctor’s comfort level with delivery tools like forceps and vacuums. Ask questions to learn about his or her experience level. How many times has your doctor used these tools during delivery? How many times have there been complications? If you do not want to use forceps during your delivery, but your doctor states that he or she uses them nearly all the time, you may want to consider finding another doctor with a different philosophy.

Do You Have a say in the Use of Forceps?

You have a say in every step of your medical care in the delivery room. If you are uncomfortable with something that is happening, speak up and say so. Your doctors can make recommendations for your care and the care of your baby, but ultimately, they must listen to you. You must give consent for the use of forceps during your delivery, so consider the options carefully. They can save you from emergency surgery but can also cause serious complications.

If used incorrectly, forceps can cause neurological injuries. Cerebral palsy can happen when the forceps damage the cerebrum, the part of the brain that controls a person’s motor functions. Damage can include certain movements, sensory processing, and the language and speech areas of the brain. Injuries to these areas can result in lifelong issues and the need for a permanent caregiver.