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Forceps used during labor can harm Mom and baby

Delivering a baby is nearly always safe for both mother and child, but complications do sometimes occur. A good obstetrician will quickly note the signs of trouble during labor and take the reasonably accepted steps to solve the problem.

On occasion, labor can become stalled after the mother’s cervix is dilated and her membranes have ruptured, and the baby is in the birth canal. At some point, having the mother and baby continue to struggle without help can be dangerous, so the obstetrician may choose to use forceps to help.

Forceps are a surgical instrument that is shaped like a pair of large spoons. Used correctly, they can make delivery shorter and safer. But improper use of forceps can put both patients at potentially serious risk. As the Mayo Clinic’s website explains, among the things that can go wrong when the doctor uses forceps include:

  • Pain, tearing and wounds
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence
  • Tears to the uterine wall
  • Anemia due to blood loss

For the baby, the risks include:

  • Facial injuries, or temporary facial palsy
  • Eye trauma
  • Skull fracture
  • Bleeding inside the skull
  • Seizures

Often, these injuries are temporary, and worth the benefits of a forceps-assisted delivery. But sometimes, infants are seriously or permanently hurt -- and the injuries need not have happened, because the doctor mistakenly decided to use forceps when it was not necessary.

Doctors often must decide the best course of action in the heat of the moment. Still, when they deviate from accepted medical practices, time pressure is no excuse, and they must be held responsible for their patient’s damages.

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