Help or Harm? Doctors’ Use of Forceps to Deliver Babies in Kentucky

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Birth is a natural process. Most living creatures give birth with no assistance, but humans are different.

Humans have a variety of devices and procedures to help in the birth process: forceps, vacuum extractors, labor-inducing drugs, and cesarean section, to name a few. These aids have saved the lives of many babies that might have died during childbirth. Sometimes, though, the assistance causes birth defects, disability, even death.

Forceps-Assisted Births

Forceps are a medical instrument shaped like tongs, with a pair of large, metal spoon-like grippers. The doctor or midwife positions the forceps around the baby’s head to help guide the baby out of the birth canal.

Reasons for choosing to use forceps may include the following:

  • After two hours or more of pushing, the baby seems “stuck” and seems to need help to proceed through the rest of the birth canal.
  • The mother is too tired to push effectively.
  • The baby is showing signs of distress and must be delivered quickly.
  • The mother has a medical problem that makes pushing risky.

Kielland’s forceps have a separate, specific use: to rotate an infant that is stuck in a sideways position, usually high in the birth canal.

Forceps use requires a high level of skill and expertise, and it is difficult and time-consuming to teach. The baby must be far enough down the birth canal, and the head and face must be in the correct position, for forceps delivery to be considered a safe procedure.

Each year, thousands of babies are delivered with the assistance of forceps—despite results of studies since the 1980s that report high rates of injury to both mother and baby. Many obstetricians consider the procedure so risky that they have stopped using forceps.

What Are the Dangers?

There are risks to both mother and baby during a forceps delivery. The Mayo Clinic lists the following risks to the mother:

  • post-delivery pain in the perineum (the area between the vagina and the anus);
  • tears in the lower genital tract;
  • difficulty urinating or emptying the bladder;
  • urinary or fecal incontinence;
  • anemia;
  • injuries to the bladder or urethra;
  • sexual dysfunction;
  • uterine rupture; and
  • weakening of the muscles and ligaments that support the pelvic organs, resulting in pelvic organ prolapse.

Then there are the risks to the baby:

  • facial injuries from pressure of the forceps;
  • temporary facial palsy (weakness of the facial muscles);
  • external eye trauma;
  • skull fracture;
  • bleeding beneath the skull;
  • seizures;
  • high cervical spinal cord injury;
  • shoulder dystocia;
  • cerebral palsy; and
  • death.

If the baby whose birth you have been eagerly anticipating died during childbirth or was born with a brain injury, contact one of our medical malpractice attorneys in Kentucky. Call Gray and White Law at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 to set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation. We’ll investigate your case and see if this Louisville tragedy was preventable.