A forceps delivery is a type of operative vaginal delivery. It's sometimes needed in the course of vaginal childbirth.
In a forceps delivery, a health care provider applies forceps — an instrument shaped like a pair of large spoons or salad tongs — to the baby's head to help guide the baby out of the birth canal. This is typically done during a contraction while the mother pushes.
Your health care provider might recommend a forceps delivery during the second stage of labor — when you're pushing — if labor isn't progressing or the baby's safety depends on an immediate delivery.
A forceps delivery poses a risk of injury for both mother and baby. If a forceps delivery fails, a cesarean delivery (C-section) might be needed.
Why it's done
A forceps delivery might be considered if your labor meets certain criteria — your cervix is fully dilated, your membranes have ruptured and your baby has descended into the birth canal headfirst, but you're not able to push the baby out. A forceps delivery is only appropriate in a birthing center or hospital where a C-section can be done, if needed.
Your health care provider might recommend a forceps delivery if:
Keep in mind that whenever a forceps delivery is recommended, a C-section is typically also an option.
Your health care provider might caution against a forceps delivery if:
A forceps delivery poses a risk of injury for both mother and baby.
Possible risks to you include:
While most of these risks are also associated vaginal deliveries in general, they're more likely with a forceps delivery.
If your health care provider does an episiotomy — an incision in the tissue between the vagina and the anus that can help ease the delivery of your baby — you're also at risk of postpartum bleeding and infection.
Possible risks to your baby — although rare — include:
Minor marks on your baby's face after a forceps delivery are normal and temporary. Serious infant injuries after a forceps delivery are rare.
How you prepare
Before your health care provider considers a forceps delivery, he or she might try other ways to encourage labor to progress. For example, he or she might adjust your anesthetic to encourage more effective pushing. To stimulate stronger contractions, another option might be intravenous medication — typically a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin (Pitocin).
If a forceps delivery seems to be the best option, your health care provider will explain the risks and benefits of the procedure and ask for your consent.
If you haven't already been given a regional anesthetic, your health care provider will likely give you an epidural or a spinal anesthetic. A member of your medical team will place a catheter in your bladder to empty it of urine. Your health care provider might also make an incision in the tissue between your vagina and your anus (episiotomy) to help ease the delivery of your baby.
What you can expect
During the procedure
Between contractions, your health care provider will place two or more fingers inside your vagina and beside your baby's head. He or she will then gently slide one tong between his or her hand and the baby's head, followed by placement of the other tong on the other side of your baby's head. The tongs will be locked together to cradle your baby's head.
During the next few contractions, you'll push and your health care provider will use the forceps to gently guide your baby through the birth canal.
If your baby's head is facing up, your health care provider might use the forceps to rotate your baby's head between contractions.
If delivery of the baby is certain, your health care provider will unlock and remove the forceps before the widest part of your baby's head passes through the birth canal. Alternatively, your health care provider might keep the forceps in place to control the advance of your baby's head.
Forceps deliveries aren't always successful. If your health care provider isn't able to properly grasp the baby with the forceps, he or she might use a cup attached to a vacuum pump to deliver your baby (vacuum extraction) or opt for a C-section.
If your health care provider applies the forceps but isn't able to move your baby after three pulls or if delivery doesn't occur within about 20 minutes, a C-section is likely the best option.
After the procedure
Your baby will also be monitored for signs of complications that can be caused by a forceps delivery.
When you go home
In the meantime, you can help promote healing:
While you're healing, expect the discomfort to progressively improve. Contact your health care provider if the pain gets worse, you develop a fever or you notice a pus-like discharge.
Pregnancy and birth stretch the connective tissue at the base of the bladder and can cause nerve and muscle damage to the bladder or urethra. You might leak urine when you cough, strain or laugh. Fortunately, this problem usually improves within three months. In the meantime, wear sanitary pads and do Kegel exercises to help tone your pelvic floor muscles.
To do Kegels, tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're stopping your stream of urine. Try it for five seconds at a time, four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day.
If fear of pain leaves you avoiding bowel movements, take steps to keep your stools soft and regular. Eat foods high in fiber — including fruits, vegetables and whole grains — and drink plenty of water. It's also helpful to remain as physically active as possible. Ask your health care provider about a stool softener or fiber laxative, if needed.
If you're unable to control your bowel movements (fecal incontinence), frequent Kegel exercises might help. If you have persistent trouble controlling bowel movements, consult your health care provider.
Last Updated: 2012-07-18
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