Forceps are a tong-like instrument sometimes used by a physician to deliver a baby.  Forceps are designed to cradle the baby’s head as the handles are pulled, assisting the baby in being born.  Forceps are only used during the second stage of labor.  A physician may use forceps to speed up delivery if there is fetal distress or maternal exhaustion.  A forceps delivery can help a woman avoid having a cesarean section. 

A forceps delivery is done in the following manner:

–  The cervix must be fully dilated.

–  The bladder should be empty – a catheter may be used to achieve this.

–  The mother is placed in the lobotomy position (on her back with her legs supported in stirrups).

–  Some form of local anesthetic is administered, if an epidural is not already in place.

–  The forceps blades are inserted one at a time and locked into position around the baby’s head.

–  If necessary the doctor rotates the head into a favorable position.

–  The head is then pulled right down onto the perineum.

–  An episiotomy is performed.

–  The baby’s head is lifted out and then the body.

–  The baby is treated and observed as necessary.

–  The placenta is delivered, following an injection of Syntocinon or ergometrine.

–  The episiotomy wound is sutured.

Insufficient knowledge of the instrument and improper technique can lead to complications during a forceps delivery.  These complications tend to be fairly mild and extremely rare.  These complications can include cuts or tears on mother or baby, tearing of the vagina or episiotomy, rectal tearing, facial nerve palsy for the baby, and blood accumulations between the skull bone and its underlying tissue.  In extremely rare cases, forceps may result in skull fractures.

Forceps delivery is not ideal, but when intervention is necessary, forceps can save lives.  It is important to discuss the potential for forceps use with your physician before you go into labor so you can assess her knowledge of and experience with the instrument.

What is a forceps delivery and will it harm my baby?