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.
Don’t worry, we’ve got all there is to know in our ultimate guide to forceps delivery.
In this article: 📝
- What is a forceps delivery?
- Why are forceps used in delivery?
- How are forceps used in delivery
- Is a forceps delivery painful?
- How often are forceps used in delivery?
- Risks of forceps delivery
- Is a forceps delivery safe?
What is a forceps delivery?
A forceps delivery is a type of assisted vaginal delivery.
And an “assisted vaginal delivery” is where you get a bit of extra help as you push your baby out.
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—just specifically designed to fit around your baby’s head.
Why are forceps used in delivery?
Your doctor may also 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 more pushing could be harmful to you, for example, if you have high blood pressure.
How are forceps used in delivery
Initially, you’ll be well prepared before the forceps are used.
And, of course, you’ll need to give your consent to a forceps delivery before things get underway.
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.
But 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.
Is a forceps delivery painful?
A forceps delivery can be slightly more painful, but it’s pretty relative—one person’s pain threshold is different from another’s).
Still tearing and episiotomies are still common, and both of these can be painful to experience.
How often are forceps used in 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.
Risks of forceps delivery
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 are, you’re not alone—it’s a common concern for moms on Peanut.
But according to the ACOG, there’s no evidence that a forceps delivery can impact your baby’s development in any way.
Still, there’s never harm in being fully informed, so let’s talk through potential problems after forceps delivery one by one:
1. What are the side effects of forceps delivery on mother?
Any vaginal birth carries the risk of damage to your genital area during delivery, but the risk is slightly increased for a forceps birth.
Postmartum complications of forceps delivery include:
- Pain in the tissue between your vagina and your anus
- Vaginal tearing
- Trouble peeing after the birth
- Incontinence (not being able to stop yourself from peeing)
- Weakened muscles causing your pelvic organs to drop lower.
Of course, your healthcare provider will help with your recovery.
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.
2. What are side effects of forceps delivery on baby?
So how does a forceps delivery affect baby?
As we mentioned above, you may notice forceps delivery marks on your baby’s head and face.
These typically go away by themselves in 1-2 days after birth.
However, baby may have small forceps delivery injuries like small cuts on their face, head, or scalp.
3. What are long-term effects of forceps delivery?
There haven’t been many studies on the long-term side effects of forceps delivery.
One (admittedly dated) study shows that babies born by forceps delivery are not at risk of any physical or cognitive impairment at 17 years of age.
As for the psychological effects of forceps delivery on baby, we can’t give you a definite answer because of the sheer lack of studies.
What we do know is more research is needed to properly determine the long-term problems after forceps delivery.
From what the scientific community knows so far, any side effects from a forceps-assisted delivery are short-term.
How long does it take to recover from forceps delivery?
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
- Apply an ice pack for the first 24 hours, removing after 20 minutes and replacing each hour as needed
- Use a numbing spray or cream on the affected area
- Sit on a pillow or special cushion to make yourself more comfortable.
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.
Really, 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.
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.
Remember, every birth and every pregnancy is different.
Wherever your journey takes you, you’re doing an amazing job, mama.
Keen to hear forceps delivery stories from other moms? Join us on Peanut!