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What Are the Risks of a Forceps Birth?

Using forceps to get a baby out of the birth canal carries risk of injury to the baby and mother.
Use of forceps during birth may pose a number of health risks for both the mother and infant.
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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 02 August 2014
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In certain situations, an infant may need to be helped out of the birth canal. As with most medical procedures, there is some risk involved with a forceps birth. Both the baby and the mother may be injured by this method of delivery. Most injuries are considered minor, but in some cases, the injuries can be very severe, causing permanent disabilities.

In forceps births, the instruments may leave marks on the infant's head. These marks are typically caused by the pressure of the forceps. Most of the time, marks from a forceps delivery are quite minor and often disappear within a few days. Bruises around the head and face are quite common, as are scratches.

Scratches and lacerations, although not usually considered serious, are typically more dangerous for the infant. Lacerations caused by a forceps birth can sometimes lead to a serious infection or disease. A child delivered to an HIV-positive mother during a forceps assisted birth, for example, has a very high risk of contracting the infection himself.

Although a little less common, facial paralysis is another risk of a forceps birth. This can occur when the forceps put too much pressure on the facial nerve. Studies have shown that paralysis associated with forceps deliveries is usually mild, and often temporary. More severe cases, however, may require this nerve to be repaired surgically. In rare instances, facial paralysis can be permanent.

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Another rare, but very serious, complication of a forceps birth is damage to the skull or spine. When too much pressure is used with forceps, an infant's skull can crack. This can cause hemorrhaging in the brain, and often permanent brain damage. Additionally, when too much force is used to extract an infant with forceps, the head could possibly separate from the spine, resulting in a spinal cord injury.

A forceps birth also poses risks to the mother. Bruising or other damage to the pelvic floor muscles is the most common complication. This can lead to urinary incontinence in many women.

During a forceps birth, there is also a small chance that the walls separating the bladder or rectum from the vagina could become perforated. If the hole is large enough, this could cause urine or feces to leak into the vagina. not only can this situation cause urinary or fecal incontinence, it can also cause a serious infection.

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