Forceps delivery is a type of assisted vaginal delivery that helps guide the baby out of the birth canal. When used by an experienced doctor and under established standards of care, a delivery using forceps (a medical instrument resembling two spoons or a pair of tongs) can be safely performed.
However, if improperly utilized, the damage to a newborn can be extensive and, in some cases, permanent. Birth injuries, such as brain hemorrhages, brain damage, and cerebral palsy, can result from improper use of forceps during delivery. The medical malpractice lawyers at the Villari Firm can help victims pursue justice, not just compensation, due to the harm that results either because of negligence or incompetence.
Forceps Delivery Risks
During delivery, the risk of injury to both the mother and the infant increases when forceps are used. Doctors must fully inform the mother of the risks before performing a forceps delivery.
Below are some of the most common risks to Mom and baby.
For the mother, the risks of injury can include:
- Tears in the vagina and perineum leading to excess bleeding or infection
- The need for an episiotomy (a surgical widening of the birth canal which requires sutures to close)
- Bruising and pain to the perineum
- Injury to the bladder
- Difficulty urinating
- Muscle or ligament damage that can lead to a pelvic organ prolapse
- Uterine rupture
For the baby, risks of injury can range from minor to catastrophic. Some examples include:
- Trauma to the eyes or eye orbits
- Muscle weakness in the face (facial palsy)
- Pressure injuries to the face
- Skull fractures
- Brain damage
- Nerve damage
- Brain Hemorrhages
Permanent Disabilities Due to Forceps Delivery
Although rare, some injuries to the baby that result from improper use of forceps in delivery can be permanent and severe. Examples include:
According to the CDC, cerebral palsy is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. Cerebral means “of or relating to the brain”, while palsy means “weakness or problems with using the muscles.” Improper use of forceps can lead to cerebral palsy by causing brain cells and tissues to be destroyed by oxygen deprivation or from too much pressure being exerted on the skull.
Brachial Plexus Palsy
Brachial Plexus Palsy is a condition characterized by weakness or paralysis in parts of the arm, including the hand and fingers. This is , due to significant injury to the brachial plexus nerves. Erb’s Palsy is the most common type of Brachial Plexus Palsy.
Erb’s Palsy is a condition characterized by arm weakness and loss of motion in the arm or shoulder. When an infant’s head and shoulders are excessively pulled or stretched in the birth canal during forceps delivery, the brachial plexus (a group of nerves running from the shoulder to the hand) can be damaged. This birth injury can result in Erb’s Palsy.
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DDs)
The National Institute of Health (NIH) defines Intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) as disorders usually present at birth that uniquely affect the trajectory of the individual’s physical, intellectual, and/or emotional development. Many of these conditions affect multiple body parts or systems and can be lifelong in effect.
Seizure disorders are medical conditions that are characterized by episodes of uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain. Seizures can result in brain damage as well as mental and physical impairments, which may be temporary or permanent. Epilepsy is a common type of seizure disorder.
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen, typically during birth. Fetal Distress can lead to this condition. Babies with HIE can develop permanent health conditions and disorders, such as hearing and vision impairments, cognitive disabilities, seizure disorders, and cerebral palsy.
When Should Forceps Be Used?
If your baby is struggling in the birth canal or if you are unable to push anymore, a forceps delivery may be an option. Used in the second stage of delivery (the “pushing” stage), an experienced doctor adhering to standards of care can use forceps to grip a baby’s head and maneuver the baby through the birth canal. Although forceps are not commonly utilized in deliveries anymore, they may be used to potentially avoid a c-section in the following situations.
Fetal distress can occur when a baby is not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen during labor. It is generally detected through monitoring of the fetal heart rate. If not quickly addressed, the consequences can be devastating and pose lifelong medical challenges for the baby.
Prolonged labor is generally defined as labor lasting over 20 hours for first-time mothers and over 14 hours for women that have already had children. Complications from prolonged labor can include fetal distress, exhaustion of the mother, and permanent injuries to the baby.
Fatigue and exhaustion during labor impact the mother’s ability to safely or effectively “push.” This may result from a mother’s medical condition (such as heart disease or high blood pressure or an acute birthing complication such as excess bleeding) from prolonged labor or drugs used during the delivery. Complications from maternal fatigue can include fetal distress and result in permanent injuries to the baby.
Forceps Injuries and Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Experienced doctors who are skilled in using forceps are not as common as they once were given advancements in techniques and alternatives. Still, when the decision is made to use forceps and it results in harm to the mother or infant, an experienced medical malpractice attorney can guide you through this complex area of the law.
At the Villari Firm, we care about you and your family and will fight for your rights like your case is our own. We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to review your case. Contact us directly at (215)-977-4796 or online by clicking here.