Why Would Forceps be Used During Childbirth?


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Childbirth is a physically demanding process that can leave a mother completely exhausted. It is also a delicate event where things can sometimes start to go awry. In both of these instances doctors have a number of tools at their disposal designed to facilitate the process of delivering a child safely and securely. One of these methods is the use of forceps in delivery, which is discussed in this article.

Why would forceps be used in my delivery?

Forceps are only used in childbirth when completely necessary, and there are actually a number of circumstances where the use of forceps, or an alternative method of assisted delivery like vacuum delivery, is needed.

If the mother is too tired after prolonged labour, or suffers from any one of a number of medical conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease that would affect childbirth, then forceps are used to facilitate birth. Similarly if severe bleeding (haemorrhage) is observed then assisted delivery through forceps is often used.

Forceps are also used if any abnormalities in foetal heart beat are noticed. They are also a useful tool if a baby is in the wrong position during birth (e.g. breech birth), for instance if the baby starts coming out feet or buttocks first. Breech births can be extremely dangerous, with a considerable risk of damage to the spinal cord for instance if the head is in an incorrect position. During this kind of birth forceps are often used, if possible, to turn the baby into the correct position. 

What are the benefits of using forceps?

Forceps often speed up childbirth, working alongside maternal contractions to ensure the safe delivery of a baby as quickly as possible, which is a particular benefit where there are concerns about the health of either mother or child. Forceps are also used to avoid the need for a caesarean section, a surgical method of childbirth with its own risks.

What are the risks of using forceps?

While forceps are only used when they contribute to the health and safety of childbirth their use also involves an element of some risk. For the baby, forceps can potentially cause marks like cuts and bruises where the forceps themselves make contact with the baby’s skull. Some marking is fairly commonplace, but in most cases, these disappear quickly.

In very rare instances forceps can cause a break in the neck bone called the clavicle, or injury to nerves in the face (although this is also usually temporary). Forceps are not used for births occurring before the 34th week of pregnancy as the baby’s skull is not hard enough to withstand any pressure.

For mums the use of forceps carries with it a risk of vaginal tearing, issues in bladder control and use for a couple of days during recovery, and a longer period of post-delivery recovery.

The different types of forceps

There are actually a number of different forceps in current use for childbirth, and these are either based on the French long forceps design or the English short forceps design. In the UK short forceps are preferred, and can be used to aid in the actual process of pushing a baby through the birth canal, or alternatively, to adjust the position of a baby who is in the breech position for example.

Ultimately while carrying some risks, forceps are an invaluable tool during childbirth as they help the birthing process along when necessary.


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