The idea of a forceps delivery can seem like something weird and scary – What? You’re going to put those salad-tong-shaped things up there?!
In reality, forceps are simply another tool your doctor can use to help bring your little one safely into the world.
But unless you’ve already had a forceps birth, you might not know much about them.
Whether you’re wondering “are forceps safe in delivery?”, “what are forceps delivery risks?”, or “what do forceps even look like?”, we’ve got all there is to know in our ultimate guide to forceps delivery.
In this article: 📝
- When is forceps delivery necessary?
- What happens during a forceps delivery?
- What are potential forceps delivery risks or forceps delivery complications?
- What are the effects of forceps delivery on baby?
- Is a forceps delivery safe?
When is forceps delivery necessary?
First things first: what is a forceps delivery?
Well, a forceps delivery is a type of assisted vaginal delivery.
An “assisted vaginal delivery” is where you get a bit of extra help as you push your baby out.
And just what do forceps look like? Well, there are a few different types of forceps, but pregnancy forceps (or birth tongs) pretty much look like salad tongs.
Why are forceps used for delivery?
If you get to the second (or “pushing”) part of labor and your baby is taking their time to emerge, your doctor might suggest switching to a forceps delivery to gently guide them out.
Your doctor may want to speed up delivery in this way if your baby is showing signs of stress or if there’s a change in their heartbeat.
Or, they might want to bring in the forceps if too much more pushing could be harmful to you – for example, if you have high blood pressure.
Are forceps still used for delivery?
Not as much as they used to be ‒ the chances of having a forceps delivery are low.
Forceps use is becoming rarer. In the US, less than 1% of births involve a forceps delivery.
Assisted birth by vacuum extraction is more common, at 2.58%.
That’s where a suction cup is attached to the baby’s head and (gentle!) suction is used to help them out.
In contrast, a huge 32% of births happen via a c-section.
The ACOG suggests that a major advantage of a forceps delivery is the potential to avoid a c-section, which though common, is surgery, and therefore has more risks attached.
What happens during a forceps delivery?
Initially, you’ll be well prepared before the forceps are used.
Of course, you’ll need to give your consent to a forceps delivery before things get underway.
Your doctor will also make sure that your baby has moved far enough down the birth canal and that their head is in the right position.
You’ll probably get an anesthetic to numb the area (if you haven’t had one already), and you’ll also need to have a catheter (a thin tube) inserted to empty your bladder.
A forceps-assisted delivery takes teamwork!
Between contractions, your doctor will place the two halves of the forceps – one at a time – into your vagina.
They’ll be carefully positioned around your baby’s head and then locked into place.
After that, you simply keep pushing with all your might and the doctor works with you to gently guide your baby out.
What are potential forceps delivery risks or forceps delivery complications?
It’s normal for your baby to have a few small marks or bruises from the forceps, but these will soon fade.
Their head may also look a little swollen or cone-shaped for a couple of days.
More serious forceps delivery complications and risks are very rare, so try not to worry.
And if you’re thinking “can forceps delivery cause developmental delays?” you’re not alone, it’s a common question!
But according to the ACOG, there’s no evidence that a forceps delivery can impact your baby’s development in any way.
What are the side effects of forceps delivery?
Any vaginal birth carries the risk of damage to your genital area during delivery, but the risk is slightly increased for a forceps birth.
Possible side effects include: pain in the tissue between your vagina and your anus, tearing in your vagina, trouble peeing after the birth, incontinence (not being able to stop yourself peeing!), and weakened muscles causing your pelvic organs to drop lower.
Of course, your healthcare provider will help with your recovery.
How long does it take to recover from forceps delivery side effects?
Any soreness and swelling in your vaginal area should clear up after a few weeks, but there are a few things you can do at home to help ease the discomfort during that time.
A sitz bath can ease discomfort after a forceps-assisted delivery, with cool water just covering your lower half.
You could also apply an ice pack, use a numbing spray or cream on the affected area, or sit on a pillow or special cushion to make yourself more comfortable.
Do you need an episiotomy with forceps?
Yes, there is a chance that you’ll need an episiotomy when having a forceps delivery.
Not sure what an episiotomy is? Simply put, it’s a cut in the tissue between your vagina and your anus, to widen the opening, too.
What are the effects of forceps delivery on baby?
A forceps delivery doesn’t just affect you, mama ‒ after all, a forceps birth is how your baby is entering the world!
So how does a forceps delivery affect baby?
What are the chances of a forceps delivery injury to baby?
You may notice forceps delivery marks on baby’s head and face.
These are usually nothing to worry about, and typically go away by themselves in 1-2 days after birth.
However, baby may have a small forceps delivery injury ‒ sometimes small cuts on their face, head, or scalp.
These are also fairly common ‒ minor forceps delivery injuries tend to happen for 10% of forceps deliveries ‒ and, like forceps delivery marks, heal by themselves in a few days.
What are the long-term effects of forceps delivery?
There haven’t been many studies on the long-term effects of a forceps delivery on baby.
However, this (admittedly dated) study shows that babies born by forceps delivery had “significantly higher” intelligence scores by the age of 17.
However, when compared to vaginal birth babies later in life, the difference in intelligence scores was minimal.
Ultimately, the study found that babies born by forceps delivery or vacuum delivery “are not at risk of physical and cognitive impairment”.
If you’re wondering “can forceps delivery cause developmental delays?”, we can’t tell you a definite answer due to lack of studies, but we’re erring on the side of no, forceps deliveries don’t cause developmental delays.
So more studies need to be carried out to determine the long-term effects of forceps delivery, but, from what the scientific community knows so far, there are no forceps delivery side-effects on a long-term basis.
Is a forceps delivery safe?
Yes, a forceps delivery is safe for both you and baby ‒ if it’s used when it’s supposed to be used (that is, if there are some minor complications with a vaginal birth).
Your doctor will know when is best to switch to a forceps-assisted delivery.
Is forceps delivery better than Caesarean?
It’s hard to say whether a forceps delivery is ‘better’ than a c-section ‒ it depends on the pregnancy and birth journey at that moment.
A c-section is surgery, so there are risks to it, no matter what ‒ so if you’re not sure whether you want to go for a c-section, speak with your doctor about a forceps delivery or vacuum delivery.
Is a forceps delivery painful?
Yes, a forceps delivery can be painful ‒ although pain is pretty relative (one person’s pain threshold is different from another’s).
Tearing and episiotomies are still common with a forceps delivery, both of which can be painful to experience.
That’s all there is to know about having a forceps delivery!
Remember, every birth and every pregnancy is different ‒ wherever your journey takes you, you’re doing an amazing job, mama.
Keen to swap forceps delivery stories from other moms? Join us on Peanut and share your story!
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