Forceps are two spoon-shaped steel instruments with handles, joined together so that they closely resemble salad tongs. Doctors sometimes use forceps to gently grasp and pull on a baby's head during vaginal deliveries when a mother is unable to push the baby out on her own. Forceps are valuable medical tools which prevent the need for many Cesarean sections, and, when used by a skilled practitioner, the risk of complications is low. However, babies delivered with the help of forceps are at a higher risk for a number of complications.
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Face and Head Injuries
The most common, and least serious, injuries resulting from forceps deliveries are facial marks, cuts and bruises. These minor injuries are caused by pressure from the forceps themselves. They are not permanent and usually heal within a few days.
Another temporary condition is a somewhat cone-shaped head. This is common in many vaginal births, whether forceps were used on the baby or not.
Some studies suggest that forceps deliveries increase the risk of intracranial bleeding (bleeding in and around the brain). However, other studies suggest that intracranial bleeding is due most often to the delivery problems that necessitated the use of forceps, as opposed to the forceps themselves, according to YourLaborRoom.com. As alarming as this condition sounds, it often goes undetected and usually resolves itself within weeks or months.
Occasionally, a baby delivered with the help of forceps will experience nerve damage, usually to those that control facial or arm muscles. The damage is frequently temporary and reverses itself within a few days. In very rare cases, it is permanent.
Very rarely, the use of forceps may result in a broken collarbone. In one out of approximately 4,500 forceps deliveries, a skull fracture occurs, according to the eMedicine website.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Babies who are not only gently pulled by forceps, but also turned, may suffer spinal cord injuries.
Risks to the Mother
While often not serious, forceps deliveries pose risks to the mother, too. These include vaginal and anal tears, bruising of the vaginal wall, bladder injury and rectal sphincter dysfunction.
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