Every year, a bit over 1 in 1,000 babies in the US are delivered using forceps – a medical instrument that has been used since medieval times but has more recently declined in popularity. Forceps have contributed to many serious birth injuries.
OB/GYNs use these tools to grip the head of an infant and move them through the birth canal. It’s not always bad. In fact, it’s often a successful tool. But there are some serious risks involved.
Forceps are an intervention doctors use when childbirth isn’t going as planned or the doctor needs extra assistance to safely remove the baby. If everything is going smoothly, you shouldn’t need them. But what happens when things go wrong and your baby experiences a forceps birth injury?
Keep reading to learn more about forceps, what injuries are common, and what to do if a forceps birth injury lawsuit is necessary.
Types Of Forceps
There are many different types of obstetric forceps, but not all forceps look the same. But for the most part, all forceps have the two prongs that hold the infant’s head. The most common types of forceps are:
Kielland Forceps: This style of forceps is most commonly used. They’re used when a baby needs to be rotated.
Piper’s Forceps: This style is for breech delivery cases. The forceps have a downward curving stem that fits around the infant’s body.
Simpson Forceps: This style has a longer curve. They’re used when a baby’s head is squeezed in the birth canal.
Wrigley’s Forceps: This style of forceps is used in deliveries where the baby is further down in the birth canal. It’s a shorter instrument that minimizes the risk of uterine rupture.
When Are Forceps Used During Birth?
Of course, the goal for any doctor when delivering a baby is to do so without any complications. But life doesn’t always work out that way. Doctors use forceps in deliveries that need some sort of doctor intervention. These cases are called assisted deliveries.
To use forceps during birth, the delivery has to meet specific criteria. Sometimes, a mother can’t deliver her baby on her own. This can be due to a ruptured membrane, breech baby, dilated cervix, or several other causes. If the mother can’t push the baby out on her own, then a doctor may use forceps to assist the delivery. But there are other factors that can also warrant the use of forceps. These include:
- The mother is pushing but things aren’t progressing.
- There’s an increase or decrease in the baby’s heart rate.
- The fetus is sitting too low in the birth canal.
- Perhaps there’s an underlying health issue with the mother.
When Should Forceps NOT be Used During Birth?
Medical professionals are called professionals for a reason. But even the most experienced experts make mistakes. Sometimes, they use their forceps incorrectly. Sometimes, they use them at the wrong time. In many cases when doctors use forceps, a C-section would have been a safer option.
Here are a few cases where using forceps may not be the best option:
- Premature delivery. Forceps are typically not used in births where the baby is more than six weeks premature, as the baby’s skull may not be fully developed and could be more easily damaged.
- Fetal position. If the baby is in a dangerous position, like leading with their arms, forceps may increase the risk of injury to the baby.
- Pelvic size. If the mother’s pelvis is too small, forceps may not be able to fit properly, or their use may cause injury to the mother.
- Medical conditions. Forceps may be unsafe for mothers or babies who have certain medical conditions, like bleeding disorders that could be worsened by the use of forceps.
- Non-reassuring fetal heart rate. If the baby is showing signs of distress, such as a slow heart rate, forceps may not be used as they could further compromise the baby’s health.
Keep in mind, it’s probably not going to be perfectly clear cut. Consulting an attorney to determine whether or not you have a case is something you’ll want to do as soon as possible. There are some cases where you think your doctor did everything right, and they didn’t. Then there may be situations where it seems clear that the doctor made a mistake, but they weren’t actually negligent.
Forceps Deliveries & Birth Injuries
We know that doctors use forceps during childbirth with good intentions. And most of the time, forceps are a highly effective tool for assisting in a difficult delivery. But, doctors must be highly skilled and experienced to use forceps. And even the most experienced doctors make mistakes.
The greatest risk happens when the doctor grips the baby’s head with forceps. If the doctor grips the head in the wrong way or uses too much pressure, they can cause life-changing birth injuries.
Forceps are also used to twist the baby into the correct position. This is a very difficult movement, and even the slightest mistake can cause devastating birth injuries.
Common Forceps Birth Injuries
When a doctor makes a mistake with forceps or uses them improperly, they can cause injury to both mother and baby. Forceps birth injuries can range from bruises on the baby’s head to permanent brain damage or spinal cord injury. Some of the more dangerous forceps birth injuries include:
- Brain bleeds happen when blood vessels around the head are ruptured. This causes internal cranial bleeding.
- Hydrocephalus is an internal brain injury is characterized by fluid buildup. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) builds up due to swelling from external head trauma. This swelling of the brain can result in permanent brain damage.
- Hematomas can occur when pressure from the forceps causes the veins around the brain to rupture. The buildup of blood resulting from this trauma is a hematoma. The pressure of the hematoma must be alleviated or it will damage brain cells.
One Family’s Tragic Story
In 2022 a family in Iowa was awarded $97.4 million in a medical malpractice lawsuit. This poor family’s newborn suffered from severe, lifelong brain damage after an assisted delivery with forceps.
According to the lawsuit, the baby had been in distress during labor, and it wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The family argued that the baby should’ve been delivered via cesarean. But that’s not what happened. The doctor continued with a vaginal birth and used forceps to pull the baby out.
Sadly, the baby’s skull was fractured in the process and now suffers from lifelong brain damage. While there’s no happy ending here, the family was awarded the $97.4 million- the largest amount awarded in a medical malpractice case in Iowa.
Forceps Birth Injury Lawsuits
Childbirth doesn’t always go as planned. Emergencies happen, and doctors must make quick decisions to do what’s best for mother and baby. But when forceps are used during birth, it can put the mother and baby at risk. When a forceps birth injury occurs, it’s possible that the doctor made a mistake or were negligent. In these cases, the parents and family have the option to file a birth injury lawsuit. This gives the family an opportunity to pay for some of the past and future medical expenses.
Get Help With Your Birth Injury Case
Maybe these stories hit close to home for you. Do you know someone with a similar story? Does your baby suffer from the lifelong effects of a forceps birth injury? If so, it may be time to reach out for help. Our team of experienced attorneys is here for you and ready to discuss your possible forceps birth injury case. Give our team a call today to get started with your free consultation.