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Forceps delivery

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 Risks How you prepare What you can expect

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:

  • You're pushing, but labor isn't progressing. If you've never given birth before, labor is considered stalled if you've pushed for a period of two to three hours but haven't made any progress. If you've given birth before, labor might be considered stalled if you've pushed for a period of one to two hours without any progress.
  • Your baby's heartbeat suggests a problem. If your health care provider is concerned about changes in your baby's heartbeat and an immediate delivery is necessary, he or she might recommend a forceps delivery.
  • You have a health concern. If you have certain medical conditions — such as narrowing of the heart's aortic valve (aortic valve stenosis) — your health care provider might limit the amount of time you push.
  • Your baby's head is facing the wrong direction. A forceps delivery might be needed if your baby's head is facing up (occiput posterior position) rather than down (occiput anterior position).

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:

  • Your baby has a condition that affects the strength of his or her bones, such as osteogenesis imperfecta, or has a bleeding disorder, such as hemophilia
  • Your baby's head hasn't yet moved past the midpoint of the birth canal
  • The position of your baby's head isn't known
  • Your baby's shoulders or arms are leading the way through the birth canal
  • Your baby might not be able to fit through your pelvis due to his or her size or the size of your pelvis

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