What is a Forceps Birth Injury?

Welcoming a baby into the family is life-altering, in a positive way! But when that welcoming involves a forceps birth injury, it’s life-altering in a negative way. 

In emergency situations, there can be little time for doctors to explain the risks of using forceps. That’s why it’s important to be aware of potential complications ahead of time. Keep reading to find out what a forceps birth injury is and how it can happen.

Woman experiencing labor in hospital.

What is a Forceps Delivery?

Forceps delivery is a type of assisted vaginal delivery. It’s sometimes necessary when a baby is having difficulty descending through the birth canal.

Forceps are curved metal tongs. During a forceps delivery, a doctor uses them to grasp the baby’s head and gently pull it out of the birth canal. In most cases, doctors use forceps only during the second stage of labor, when the mother has fully dilated and is actively pushing.

When Might a Doctor Use Forceps?

Forceps should only be an option if there’s a clear medical need. For example:

  • Labor isn’t progressing.
  • A baby’s heart rate drops, and there’s an immediate need for delivery. 
  • The mother has a health issue that prevents her from pushing. 
  • The baby is facing the wrong way.

A doctor should only use forceps when conditions are right. Usually, this means the mother’s water has broken and her cervix is fully dilated. The baby should be low in the birth canal. Using them to assist delivery when a baby is too high up may cause a forceps birth injury. 

Risks of Using Forceps

The decision to use forceps shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are many risks associated with forceps deliveries, such as:

Risks for Infants:

  • Head injuries. The use of forceps can result in bruising or swelling of the baby’s scalp. Serious injuries, such as skull fractures or bleeding inside the skull, are rare. 
  • Facial injuries. The forceps can cause temporary marks on the baby’s face, such as bruises or small cuts.
  • Facial palsy. Pressure from forceps can cause muscle weakness in the face. 
  • Eye injuries. Improper use of forceps can leave an infant with impaired vision or blindness. 
  • Brain injuries. Too much force or pressure on the head can cause brain damage and seizures. The damage can be permanent and lead to conditions like cerebral palsy. 
  • Nerve damage. Pulling on the infant’s head too much while using forceps can damage nerves in neck and shoulders. This can cause lasting or permanent disability. 
  • Shoulder dystocia. The baby’s shoulder may get stuck in the birth canal. This may lead to oxygen deprivation. 

Risks for Mothers:

  • Maternal tears and lacerations. The use of forceps can sometimes cause tears or lacerations in the mother’s vagina or perineum.
  • Incontinence. Forceps delivery can sometimes cause damage to the muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor. This can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence.
  • Uterine rupture. A uterine rupture occurs when part of the uterus wall tears or rips. It’s rare, but it’s possible for excessive force from forceps to cause a rupture. 

 In many of the circumstances that warrant the use of forceps, a Cesarean section might be a better option. There are risks associated with C-sections as well. But forceps are more likely to cause infant trauma. Doctors should only use them when the benefits outweigh the risks.

Forceps Birth Injury Examples

Improper use of forceps can cause mild injuries that resolve with treatment. But it can also lead to permanent injuries that change the course of a child’s life forever. 

Here are some examples of serious conditions that may stem from a forceps birth injury:

  • Cerebral palsy. A group of neurological disorders that affect movement, posture, and muscle tone.
  • Erb’s palsy. This is a type of palsy involving damage to the nerves in the upper arm. 
  • Brachial plexus injuries. The brachial plexus is a group of nerves that run from the spinal cord in the neck to the shoulders.
  • Severe brain damage. Applying too much force with forceps can harm an infant’s brain to the point where recovery is impossible. In rare cases, babies have died from head trauma related to use of forceps. 
Newborn recovering from forceps birth injury.

Is a Forceps Birth Injury Medical Malpractice?

Not every birth injury is a result of medical negligence. But if you think a doctor’s error may have played a part, you should meet with a birth injury attorney. 

Filing a complicated lawsuit might be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re caring for your injured child. But there are several good reasons why you should:

  • You have the right to seek justice for a healthcare provider’s negligent actions. 
  • Compensation can help you pay for your child’s medical care. You may be able to give them a better quality of life. 
  • Holding a doctor accountable for negligence helps prevent them from making the same mistake again. 

If you believe you have a forceps birth injury case, don’t hesitate to call us. We’re ready to provide the qualified, compassionate representation you deserve.