Avoiding Forceps: The Key to Avoiding Birth Injuries in Newborn Babies?

Ongoing research indicates avoiding forceps during delivery may be key in preventing birth injuries in newborn babies.  Research also shows that avoiding forceps can reduce the risk of trauma to the mother.  But do mothers have a choice? And how to forceps cause birth injuries?

No Forceps, Please

A birth plan is an expectant mothers best case scenario.  It is a list of all her desires, the interventions, and pain management options she prefers.  Mothers can include a directive in their birth plan that states they do not want forceps to be used unless absolutely necessary.  By including such a directive, mothers and newborns may experience fewer birth injuries.

Any mother can tell you, however, that labor and delivery unfolds in unexpected ways.  Sometimes a birth plan is just that – a plan.  Things can go wrong and the plan unravels quickly.  Still, Australian researchers recommend making “no forceps” a crucial part of all birth plans.

Professor Peter Dietz from the University of Sydney has focused his research on understanding pelvic floor trauma due to childbirth.  After a career of studying this topic, Dr.  Dietz has reached one conclusion: doctors should avoid forceps unless it is unequivocally necessary for the health of the mother and child.

Avoiding forceps may help avoid pelvic floor trauma to the mother and birth injuries in newborn babies.  By having your preference written clearly in your birth plan, you won’t have to worry about expressing your preference in the throes of labor.

How Do Forceps Cause Injuries to Mothers?

Research shows that women who deliver vaginally with the assistance of forceps:

  • Are 10 times more likely to experience vaginal prolapse than women who have a c-section.
  • Are two times more likely to prolapse than women who had a vacuum delivery.
  • Have double the risk of anal sphincter tears.
  • Have double the risk of incontinence.

Statistics like this are sure to be daunting for any expectant mother.  What’s more, forceps can cause the following injuries to mothers:

  • Tears to the pelvic floor
  • Pelvic floor injury
  • Episiotomy
  • Perineum pain
  • Fecal or urinary incontinence
  • Bladder injuries
  • Urethra injuries

A clear birth plan, and a provider who expresses a willingness to respect it, can be the best way to ensure a healthy, safe, and satisfying childbirth.  Dietz says if a birth plan is clear, chances are good medical professionals can both honor the mother’s wishes and avoid birth injuries in newborn babies.

With regard to forceps, Dr.  Dietz recommends the following wording in a birth plan that will express your preferences clearly, but make sure your team knows you trust them to intervene if the baby is at risk of birth injury:

“’Under no circumstances do I agree to a forceps delivery unless the baby is in immediate danger and cannot be delivered in any other way”

On the other hand, being too absolute with your wishes can delay necessary treatment doctors, nurses, and midwives are trained to provide.  This can also contribute to complications and birth injuries in newborn babies.  When labor and delivery goes wrong, it is important for medical staff to be able to act to intervene meaningfully.

Alternatives to Forceps Delivery

In deliveries where a baby needs extra help to be born, vacuum extraction or even surgical delivery can be a better option than forceps.  These alternatives can avoid birth injuries to the baby, and preserve the mother’s pelvic floor health.

In many European nations, gynecologists no longer use forceps for deliveries.  They are no longer recommended in Sweden, and they haven’t been in use in Denmark for 15 years.  According to Dr.  Dietz, forceps are in use in up to 12 percent of births in some Australian hospitals.  In America, about 0.5 percent of births use forceps.

How Do Forceps Cause Birth Injuries in Newborn Babies?

For decades, forceps were a common tool in labor and delivery rooms.  Use of forceps has declined as the risks have become more apparent, but they are still used.  Forceps use causes birth injuries when physicians or midwives use the tool too forcefully.

Truthfully, forceps use is not optimal for the health of the mother or the baby.  Both are at risk for injury during a forceps delivery.  Forceps can cause the following birth injuries in newborn babies:

Rates of delivery by forceps are declining every year in the U.S., but some women still need the extra help that forceps can provide.  Medical providers must be extremely careful to avoid injuring mother and baby when using forceps.

What Can Parents Do if they Suspect Birth Injuries in Newborn Babies?

The signs of a forceps injury in a new baby are fairly easy to discern.  Many infants will have bruising or minor cuts from the forceps.  These are minor injuries that will heal on their own.  When excessive force causes birth injuries in newborn babies, signs may include:

The consequences from birth injuries can be lifelong.  Many birth injuries require ongoing medical attention and care, and some cause permanent disability.  If you suspect your child suffered a forceps injury, don’t wait to act.

Request medical professionals to examine the baby’s skull and brain and request an evaluation for nerve damage.  A forceps injury can lead to seizure disorders, strokes, cerebral palsy, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and death.

Can Parents Really Choose?

Doctors and nurses in labor and delivery have the responsibility to make sure mother and baby are safe.  It is their job to assess the level of danger and make sure patients are informed about the medical necessity of every intervention they suggest.

Whether a c-section, forceps delivery, or vaginal birth, doctors are responsible for keeping mothers informed about their options.  They are also responsible for communicating the risks of all procedures.  The bottom line is doctors and midwives may not force or coerce expectant parents into any treatment.

If the choice is an intervention or loss of life, physicians must adequately communicate the danger of declining treatment.

Have questions about Birth Injuries in Newborn Babies?

If your newborn is injured and you think he or she is the victim of medical negligence, your family deserves answers.  Talk to Birth Injury Guide to learn more about your legal rights and the best way to move forward.  Birth injury victims and their families can often pursue compensation for their injuries and losses.

Find out what your options may be by calling 1-877-415-6603 or by completing our online form to get started.


Sam Uribe

Written By Sam Uribe

Sam Uribe is a researcher and writer. She lends her expertise to the team at Birth Injury Guide to provide up-to-date and relevant content that clients can count on.