One of the options for a doctor during a prolonged and difficult labor, especially when the baby gets stuck in the birth canal, is to use birth-assistive devices such as forceps and pull the baby out in a safe manner. Forceps is an instrument that looks like a pair of tongs. It is used to facilitate vaginal delivery particularly in difficult circumstances where there are complications such as shoulder dystocia — a situation where the baby’s shoulder gets stuck in the mother’s pelvis.
While this is a convenient tool, forceps can lead to serious birth injuries when used incorrectly. Physicians must be extremely careful when it comes to the proper application of the forceps and to not press or pull excessively on the baby’s head. As each contraction occurs, the obstetrician is required to gently guide the baby’s head downward and out of the birth canal. When used improperly, the damage can be extensive and permanent resulting in birth injuries such as brain bleeds, cerebral palsy and developmental delays.
Here are four things you need to know about forceps and how they can cause serious birth injuries.
1. Forceps are used under specific circumstances.
There are specific circumstances under which forceps are used. Typically a physician may use forceps when the mother has had a sudden and major hemorrhage (bleeding); when the mother is exhausted or there is a prolonged second stage of labor. A doctor may also choose to use forceps when the mother has a health condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure or an aneurysm that makes pushing difficult or dangerous.
Forceps may be used when the baby’s heart rate is abnormal or when the baby is in breech position. In these situations the baby’s legs are the first parts to appear during birth instead of the head. Forceps may be used to help deliver the head in a breech delivery.
2. Timing and conditions for forceps use.
For example, the baby’s head must be engaged, the cervix must be fully dilated and the membranes must be ruptured. In addition, the fetal presentation must be known. If that is uncertain, the doctor should perform an ultrasound. The fetal size should have been estimated before birth and the baby’s dimensions should be acceptable for use of forceps. The mother’s bladder must be empty. The doctor should also explain the risks of the procedure to the mother. The physician must be experienced and skilled in forceps use, and must be prepared to abandon attempts if it doesn’t work and perform an emergency cesarean section if and when necessary.
3. There are situations in which forceps shouldn’t be used.
A doctor should not use forceps in any of the following situations:
• The pregnancy is under 34 weeks. At this stage forceps use should be avoided because there is a heightened risk of fetal bleeding.
• The baby’s head is too large to pass through the mother’s pelvis.
• There are signs of connective tissue disorders or fetal bleeding.
• The doctor or medical professional using the forceps lacks the experience and/or skill to use forceps.
4. Improper use of forceps may cause infant brain damage.
When physicians use forceps improperly, or when they fail to quickly move on to a cesarean section, the child may suffer permanent injuries. Physicians in some situations use forceps to rotate the baby’s head when it is not in line with the mother’s pelvis. The standard of care requires doctors to stop the procedure if the first attempt at rotation is not successful. In this situation, the physician is required to proceed immediately to cesarean section delivery. Excessive force or improper use of forceps may lead to skull fracture, fluid buildup and brain tissue death. Children may be left with permanent intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Contacting an Experienced Lawyer
Cerebral palsy often occurs as a result of brain damage stemming from negligence (carelessness) during labor and delivery including misuse of forceps. If your child has cerebral palsy, he or she may be able to receive compensation that helps pay for medical expenses, lost income, cost of therapy, future treatments, permanent injuries, disabilities, past and future pain and suffering, etc.
The experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you. One of our clients obtained a verdict for $43,940,000 and another of our clients got a verdict for $23,500,000, both in medical malpractice cases.
We have seen many cases where New York City Health and Hospital Corporation facilities deliver babies who are born with cerebral palsy or Brachial plexus palsy (Erb’s palsy) stemming from negligence (carelessness), and/or medical malpractice in the labor and delivery etc. of the children.
The following list identifies some of these hospitals (operated by New York City Health and Hospital Corporation):
• Jacobi Hospital aka Bronx Municipal 1400 Pelham Parkway South Bronx, New York 10461 718-918-5000
• Lincoln Hospital 234 East 149th Street Bronx, New York 10451 718-579-5000
• North Central Bronx Hospital 3424 Kossuth Avenue Bronx, New York 10467 718-519-5000
• Coney Island Hospital 2601 Ocean Parkway Brooklyn, New York 11235 718-616-3000
• Kings County Hospital 451 Clarkson Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11203 718-245-3131
• Woodhull Hospital 760 Broadway Brooklyn, New York 11206 718-963-8000
• Bellevue Hospital 462 First Avenue New York, New York 10016 212-562-5555
• Harlem Hospital 506 Lenox Avenue New York, New York 10037 212-939-1000
• Metropolitan Hospital 1901 First Avenue New York, New York 10029 212-423-6262
• Elmhurst Hospital 79-01 Broadway Elmhurst, New York 11373 718-334-4000
• Queens Hospital Center 82-68 164th Street Jamaica, New York 11432 718-883-3000
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