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When is an assisted delivery necessary?

Sometimes childbirth does not always go as planned. Due to varying complications or factors, women may need assistance with delivering their baby.

However, sometimes an assisted vaginal delivery is not the best option or cause a traumatic injury. When is this option appropriate and what are the risks?

What is assisted delivery?

Assisted delivery is a vaginal delivery performed with the help of devices: forceps or vacuum extractors. Forceps are two large spoon-like devices that are inserted and placed around the baby’s head. Forceps apply gentle traction to guide the baby’s head out of the birth canal while pushing continues.

A vacuum extractor is a suction cup with a handle attached. The suction cup is applied to the top of the baby’s head and gentle, controlled traction is used to guide the baby out of the birth canal during pushing.

Reasons and risks for an assisted delivery

There are often good reasons doctors use assisted delivery devices, which include:

  • Concerns for the baby’s heart rate pattern during labor
  • The mother has spent a long time pushing but the baby has stopped moving
  • The mother is exhausted from a long labor
  • A medical condition limits a mother’s ability to push safely

However, there are also risks for this procedure and sometimes doctors use these tools negligently. In some cases, an emergency cesarean would have been a better option. Examples of improper use include:

  • When the mother’s pelvis is too small for a vaginal birth
  • Failure to measure the size and shape of the mother's pelvis
  • A fetal or maternal condition that warrants an emergency c-section
  • Improper use of forceps, such as applying too much force or pulling in the wrong direction

How are mothers and babies injured during an assisted delivery?

Assisted delivery can harm both the mother and the baby. A mother can be injured in the following ways:

  • Tissue damage in the lower genital tract
  • Additional pain and blood loss after labor and delivery
  • Muscle and ligament weakness
  • Urinary or fecal incontinence

Ways in which babies can be harmed by an assisted delivery include:

  • Brain damage that could lead to permanent impairment
  • Bleeding under the skin or in the brain
  • Wounds and bleeding to the scalp
  • Nerve stretching in the neck, which can cause Erb’s palsy or a brachial plexus injury
  • Eye bleeding
  • Jaundice

Doctors who are determined to perform a vaginal delivery or do not want to perform a c-section may negligently choose an assisted delivery or injure both patients during the process, and it causes lifelong effects. Mothers and babies deserve a safe and healthy birth, no matter what method is necessary.

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