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. So, in case you’re wondering ‘are forceps safe in delivery?’ You don’t have to worry.
But let’s demystify the process with 7 helpful facts about a forceps delivery.
1. 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. If you get to the second (or “pushing”!) stage of labor and your baby is taking their time to emerge, your doctor might suggest using the forceps (an instrument that looks like a large pair of spoons or salad tongs) 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.
2. 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.
3. 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. It’s possible that you’ll also need something called an episiotomy, a cut in the tissue between your vagina and your anus, to widen the opening, too.
4. 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. Congratulations mama!
5. Risks to your baby from a forceps delivery are low
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 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.
6. You may experience some forceps delivery side effects
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.
7. A sitz bath can ease discomfort after an assisted delivery
How long does it take to recover from a 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. Try soaking in a sitz bath, 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.