While the use of vacuum extractors is more common, a doctor may decide to use forceps to deliver a baby during a difficult childbirth. The doctor will grasp the head of the baby with the forceps and carefully navigate the head out of the birth canal. Forceps may be helpful when the labor process has stalled or when the baby is facing the wrong way when they come out of the birth canal. Signs of fetal distress or maternal complications also may justify the use of forceps to complete childbirth more quickly and relieve the stress on the child or the mother.
In some cases, however, a doctor should refrain from using forceps. These may include situations in which the baby is too far up the birth canal or when the baby is not traveling through the birth canal headfirst. A baby with weak bones or cephalopelvic disproportion may need to be delivered through a C-section instead.
Forceps vs. C-Sections
Sometimes a mother can choose between the use of forceps and a C-section when complications occur.
Complications From Using Forceps
Forceps injuries often do not require significant treatment, but sometimes they may lead to permanent disabilities. A mother may suffer bladder damage, pelvic organ prolapse, anemia, or uterine rupture, which is a rare but potentially life-threatening complication for both the mother and the child. Meanwhile, a child may sustain facial injuries or damage to the brain or nerves. Sometimes seizures, skull fractures, vision problems, and dangerous bleeding in or near the brain may result. Risks of birth injuries are greater with the use of forceps than with a C-section. If possible, a doctor should discuss the risks of using forceps with the mother before childbirth.
Two of the most severe types of birth injuries that may arise from forceps use are cerebral palsy and brachial plexus injuries. Cerebral palsy is a treatable but permanent condition resulting from damage to various areas of the brain, which can arise from the pressure of the forceps. Brachial plexus injuries involve stretching or tearing the nerves that send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand. This damage can result in conditions such as Erb’s palsy, which may prevent the use of a limb. Children often recover from Erb’s palsy with appropriate treatment, although sometimes the loss of movement and sensation in the limb is permanent.
Medical Malpractice Claims Based on Forceps Errors
Doctors may make mistakes when using forceps, such as applying excessive pressure. They also may incorrectly decide to use forceps during delivery rather than performing a C-section. After either type of error, a patient should consider bringing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor. They would need to show that a competent doctor would have handled the situation differently, and the errors by the defendant caused harm to the child or the mother. Many states require an affidavit of merit to be submitted with a medical malpractice lawsuit. In an affidavit of merit, a medical expert confirms that the case has a valid substantive basis, based on a review of the records. Experts also usually need to testify in support of the claim.
Types of Damages
A family may be able to recover compensation for economic costs, such as surgeries, therapy, medications, and assistive devices needed to help a child cope with a disability. They also may recover non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
Since medical malpractice cases tend to be especially complex and technical, most people pursuing them should hire an attorney. They can retain persuasive experts and maneuver around any procedural obstacles that might derail an unrepresented litigant. Most doctors and hospitals fight medical malpractice cases vigorously, so a patient should have tenacious representation on their side as well. Birth injury lawyers typically offer free consultations and do not collect fees for their services unless they recover compensation for a client.