What is forceps delivery and how will it affect your body? Learn more about this rare alternative delivery method below.
In this article:
- What Is Forceps Delivery?
- What Leads to a Forceps Delivery? What Are the Indications?
- What Happens During a Forceps Delivery? What Does the Process Involve?
- Is a Forceps-Assisted Delivery Painful?
- What Are the Benefits of Forceps Delivery?
- Is Forceps Delivery Safe?
- What Are the Complications and Risks Associated with Forceps Delivery?
- Can the Forceps Harm the Baby?
- How Do You Avoid It?
- What Is Recovery Like?
Forceps Delivery | Process, Benefits, and Risks
What Is Forceps Delivery?
Forceps delivery is one of the two forms of assisted vaginal deliveries. An assisted vaginal delivery, or an operative vaginal delivery, is when a woman gives birth through her vagina with the assistance of certain tools.
During a forceps delivery, the doctor uses delivery forceps to help the guide the baby out of the birth canal. The other form of assisted vaginal delivery is a ventouse or vacuum delivery.
What are delivery forceps? A medical instrument shaped like salad tongs that cradle the baby’s head. There are many types of forceps and the doctor will choose the most appropriate one for the delivery situation.
What Leads to a Forceps Delivery? What Are the Indications?
While most women are able to have spontaneous vaginal births, there are certain scenarios where some woman may need help in delivering their babies.
A forceps delivery is only possible if:
- mom is fully dilated at 10 cm and is in active labor
- mom’s water broke
- the baby is fully engaged and has descended head first into the birth canal
- mom is giving birth in a hospital or birthing center equipped for c-sections
After meeting all of the conditions above, the doctor may recommend this type of delivery if:
- The labor is prolonged. This means labor isn’t progressing, even if the pregnant woman has been pushing for a certain period of time.
- The expectant mom has been in active labor for a long time and is too tired to push.
- The baby is positioned far along the birth canal, and there are certain changes in his or her heartbeat that may require immediate delivery.
- The expectant mom has a pre-existing medical condition that may make prolonged labor dangerous (ex: heart disease or high blood pressure).
- The baby is larger than expected and is having trouble moving along the birth canal because of its size or position.
Doctors may also try other techniques to help labor progress. For example, they may lower the dose of anesthetic to help the expectant mom push better, or they may give certain medications that increase the intensity of contractions.
What Happens During a Forceps Delivery? What Does the Process Involve?
The doctor administers the appropriate anesthetic before beginning the procedure. Some doctors will also perform an episiotomy if they think that there’s a risk of a perineal tear.
What is a perineal tear? Is a tear or laceration in the tissue between the anus and vagina that can happen in the course of vaginal birth.
At the beginning of the procedure, the woman should be lying on her back in a slightly inclined position with her legs spread apart. In between a contraction, the doctor will:
- put two or more fingers inside the vagina to locate the baby’s head
- slide one part of the forceps on the baby’s head and the other part on the opposite side
- lock the forceps to ensure it gently cradles or grips the baby’s head
- rotate the baby if he or she is not in the optimal birthing position
During a contraction, while the expectant mom is pushing, the doctor will pull the baby out of the birth canal using the forceps.
The doctor can remove the forceps once the baby starts crowning. Otherwise, the doctor can leave it on and continue to guide the delivery of the baby’s head.
Is a Forceps-Assisted Delivery Painful?
Women are usually given some form of regional or local anesthesia before the procedure. Usually, if there’s enough time, doctors will opt for an epidural.
In instances where the baby is in distress and there isn’t enough time to administer an epidural, doctors will usually give a pudendal block instead.
What is a pudendal block? It is an anesthetic that’s injected into a nerve found in the vaginal wall. It provides quick pain relief for the vagina, vulva, and perineum.
What Are the Benefits of Forceps Delivery?
Here are some of the benefits of forceps delivery:
- It can reduce the risk of delivering through a c-section.
- Women who have assisted vaginal deliveries have a shorter hospital stay compared to those who have c-sections.
- Women are more likely to have a spontaneous vaginal delivery in their succeeding pregnancies if they opt for forceps delivery over a c-section.
- Studies show that forceps deliveries are quicker and have higher success rates compared to vacuum-assisted deliveries.
Labor can be unpredictable and this method of delivery is just one of the many interventions a doctor can provide to help labor progress.
Is Forceps Delivery Safe?
Forceps deliveries are usually safe if a trained medical professional performs it. And any form of assisted vaginal delivery reduces the risk of a c-section. Like all medical procedures, there are certain complications and risks that may arise from this procedure.
What Are the Complications and Risks Associated with Forceps Delivery?
Here are some of the complications and risks associated with this method of delivery:
- perineum pain
- wounds or tears in the lower cervix, vulva, or vagina
- urinating difficulties
- short-term loss of bladder control
- short term loss of bowel movement control
- bladder or urethra injuries
- tear in the wall of the uterus (rare)
- pelvic prolapse
In general, these are also risks for moms who have spontaneous vaginal deliveries, but it’s more likely with this method of delivery.
Can the Forceps Harm the Baby?
Apart from the risks for the expectant mom, there are also some risks for the baby. These include:
- small injuries to the face
- temporary facial palsy (muscle weakness)
- injury to the skull (fracture or bleeding)
- minor trauma to the external eye
The marks on the baby’s face after the delivery are normally temporary and will heal after a few days.
How Do You Avoid It?
Generally, a spontaneous vaginal delivery is still preferable over any type of assisted vaginal delivery, but labor can be difficult to predict. One way to prevent complications during labor and delivery is to maintain a healthy pregnancy. This includes making healthy choices about food and exercise.
It might also help to attend birthing classes to learn about techniques that may help you keep calm during labor. You can also talk to your doctor a few weeks before your due date and create a birth plan together.
If you would like to avoid this method of delivery altogether, talk to your doctor about your options.
What Is Recovery Like?
After delivering the baby, the doctors and nurses should repair the episiotomy or any other tears. It may take 2-3 weeks for the stitches to dissolve and 3-4 weeks for it to heal.
During the healing process, you may feel some discomfort or pain in the area of the tear. If you experience persistent or severe pain, see your doctor immediately.
Learn more about the forceps delivery procedure in this video from ProceduresConsult:
Forceps delivery may not seem ideal, but it can help prevent major surgery — specifically, delivering via c-section. As you prepare for your due date, it might be helpful to talk to your doctor about your delivery options.
How have you been preparing for the birth of your little one? Let us know in the comments section.
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