Although not used as much in the early 2000s as in earlier times, forceps can be used if the baby's head is very low in the birth canal. Also, if there is some sudden change in the maternal-fetal status, the doctor may opt for a forceps delivery if it would be faster than a cesarean section. Forceps are spoon-shaped devices that can be placed around the baby's head while the doctor gently pulls the baby out of the vagina.
Before placing the forceps around the baby's head, pain medication or anesthesia may be given to the mother. The doctor may use a catheter to empty the mother's bladder and may clean the perineal area with soapy water. Often an episiotomy is done before a forceps birth, although tears can still occur. The use of forceps can cause vaginal lacerations in the mother.
Half of the forceps are slid into the vagina and around the side of the baby's head to gently grasp the head. When both forceps are in place, the doctor pulls on them to help the baby through the birth canal during a uterine contraction. The frequency of forceps delivery varies from one hospital to the next, depending on the experience of staff and the types of anesthesia offered at the hospital. Some obstetricians accept the need for a forceps delivery as a way to avoid cesarean birth while other obstetrical services do not use forceps at all. Complications from forceps deliveries can occur, such as nerve damage or temporary bruises to the baby's face. When used by an experienced physician, forceps can save the life of a baby in distress.
Linda K. Bennington MSN, CNS, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit,