History of Forceps During Childbirth

InfantAccording to some accounts, the use of forceps during the delivery of a baby has been around since 1500 BC. They were more often used to save the life of the mother if the baby did not survive the birth. In the year 1600 AD, what may be considered “modern forceps” came into more common use. Since then, over 500 different shapes and styles of forceps have been created and used during delivery. In the early 1900s the use of forceps was common, especially because women at the time were often heavily sedated during delivery. As late as the 1970s, the use of forceps was still quite common, in large part because studies showed that labor exceeding two hours greatly increased the possibility of a fatal delivery event.

But in more recent times, the use of forceps has become much less common, accounting for less than 1% of total deliveries. Current studies suggest that fatalities do not necessarily increase with longer periods of labor so long as careful fetal monitoring is undertaken. As a result, it is less of a medical emergency when labor is long and the use forceps is therefore less of a necessity in today’s hospitals.

The other reason that the use of forceps has been on the decline involves the greater availability of cesarean sections (C-Section). Whereas in the past, C-Sections were considered a very last resort and were considered dangerous due to the enhanced risk of infection and injury, more recent antibiotic choices and surgical techniques have made C-Sections much more common.

Forceps Design

Although hundreds of different forceps designs have come and gone over the years (such as Simpson forceps, Elliot forceps, Wrigley forceps and Piper forceps), the basic concept of this tool is to help with delivery by gripping the head of the baby while trying to apply as little pressure as possible. The four main parts of a forceps include:

  • The Handles: Where the doctor holds the device to apply and gain traction to the baby’s head;
  • The Shanks: They connect the blades to the handles and may be straight or crossed;
  • The Blades: They are the part of the forceps that grasp the baby’s head. Each of the blades is curved to fit around the head. These blades may be elliptical or oval; they may be solid or have a hole in the center;
  • The Lock: This is the portion between the shanks that allows the shanks to open and close.

Currently forceps are designed for specific uses, and hospitals often have more than five different types of forceps available for emergency situations. For instance, Kielland forceps are commonly used when the baby’s head needs to be rotated, and contain a mechanism that helps align the baby’s head.

Forceps Injuries and Medical Malpractice

Although once commonplace, forceps deliveries are now rarer. As a result, many doctors are simply not as skilled, educated, or practiced in the use of forceps. This tool can be extremely dangerous in the wrong medical hands.

When forceps are used incorrectly, the mother may suffer injuries to her urethra, bladder, genitals, or surrounding muscles and ligaments that are permanent. But the greatest danger of forceps malpractice involves the potential injury to the baby. Skull fractures, spinal cord injuries, and brain damage are all real and frightening possibilities whenever forceps are using incorrectly.

Since 1990, Mitchell S. Sexner & Associates LLC has helped families affected by birth injuries. Millions have been collected to help families through difficult times and to bring justice to light. There are no fees unless we are successful and consultations are always free. Call us to discuss your particular circumstances. We are available 24 hours a day for your questions at (312) 644-0444.