Birth Injury: Forceps Delivery Complications

Birth injuries are among the most traumatizing and complicated injuries that a person can experience. Not only does the infant being delivered suffer from a life-altering injury, but the birthing parent is also subject to physical injury and mental trauma as a result of the experience.

Birth injuries can lead to a life of physical and emotional suffering, as well as costly medical expenses. Since many birth injuries are preventable, it is important to know your legal options should you experience a forceps birth injury.

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What is a forceps delivery?

A forceps delivery takes place when a doctor uses forceps (a metal tool used for grabbing an object) to help pull the baby out of the birth canal during a vaginal delivery by gently pulling on the baby’s head. The medical professional in charge of the delivery may only use forceps to guide the baby when the mother’s cervix has become fully dilated, and her membranes have been broken. Once the physician has the forceps in place on the baby’s head, the mother continues pushing during contractions as the baby is guided by the forceps.

Why doctors use forceps in complicated births

There are many different situations that require the use of forceps during delivery — some of which may be absolutely necessary for the life of the child and/or the parent. However, there are also many times when forceps definitely should not be used during a vaginal delivery. 

Some situations where a forceps delivery may be necessary include: 

  • When the birthing parent becomes too tired to continue pushing during contractions
  • When the child is stuck in the birth canal and is visibly experiencing fetal distress
  • When multiple children are being delivered (i.e., twins, triplets, etc.)
  • When the back of the baby’s skull is pressed against the baby’s upper back.
  • When the baby is premature
  • When the birthing parent has health conditions that may put them at risk during delivery, including heart disease or high blood pressure

Situations where forceps delivery is not appropriate or safe include: 

  • If the baby is in an unknown position
  • If the baby has weak bones or a bleeding disorder
  • If the baby is positioned to have their arms or shoulders come out of the birthing canal before their head

Given the high standards of care physicians are held to, many physicians will be able to recognize when to use forceps and when not to use forceps during delivery. Should the physician fail to properly use (or not use) forceps during delivery, it is likely to lead to severe complications for the child.

Types of birth injuries that can be caused by forceps delivery complications

a newborn baby's foot peeking out of a white blanket

Unfortunately, there are many birth injuries that can arise after experiencing complications from a forceps delivery. Some of the possible injuries that can occur during a forceps delivery include the following:

Brain damage

Given that physicians can only administer a forceps delivery by grabbing the baby’s head with this tool, it is not surprising that brain damage in the child can be the result of this procedure. The level of brain damage during a forceps delivery can vary. Some children may only suffer minor brain damage, while others may experience brain damage that can lead to life-altering conditions such as Cerebral Palsy. Regardless of the extent of brain damage, these types of life-altering injuries can result in the child suffering from these forceps complications for the rest of their life. 

Skull fracture

In addition to brain damage, the placement of the physician’s forceps on the baby’s head may also, unsurprisingly, lead to a skull fracture. While many skull fractures may heal quickly and cause little damage, more severe skull fractures can result in brain bleeding or putting too much pressure on the brain. In the event of a severe skull fracture, it is likely that the child will suffer further complications from corresponding brain damage. 

Facial injuries

An external injury that may arise after a complicated forceps delivery includes facial injuries to the child. Such facial injuries may include lacerations and bruises, which are often easily treatable and heal quickly. Other facial injuries include temporary facial palsy, a condition that sees the baby’s facial muscles become weak and droopy due to nerve damage.


When childbirth calls for a forceps delivery, it is often due to the child being unable to be removed from the birth canal. Unsurprisingly, spending a prolonged period in the birth canal may cause the child to experience a lack of oxygen, which can often lead to the child experiencing neonatal seizures. 

Cerebral Palsy

As mentioned above, brain damage during birth may lead to the child developing Cerebral Palsy. This movement disorder is a lifelong disability that prevents the brain from having control over the body’s muscular system. There are multiple types of Cerebral Palsy and many different symptoms — none of which are treatable, unfortunately. This catastrophic birth injury permanently alters the lives of the child and their parents as it requires the most extensive care and medical expenses. 

What are the risks to a newborn child during a forceps delivery?

Newborn children are very fragile, so even the slightest complication during a forceps delivery may be catastrophic and result in one of the injuries mentioned above. It is often difficult to assess immediately whether the child suffered any injuries during a forceps delivery, so it is essential to remain extra attentive to the child, especially during their first few years, in order to be able to recognize any signs or symptoms of a birth injury.

What are the risks to the mother during a forceps delivery?

While the baby is typically the main concern for birth injuries, the mother may also suffer a birth injury during a forceps delivery. Some of the most common birth injuries to mother include:

  • Vaginal or rectal tears
  • Bloss loss
  • Uterine ruptures
  • Damage to the lower urinary tract
  • Damage to the bladder
  • High or low blood pressure

In order to prevent the mother from experiencing any of these injuries, it’s important for the medical care professionals to remain attentive to the mother in addition to caring for the baby during the childbirth process.

What are the symptoms of a birth injury?

Given the vast amount of birth injuries that can occur to both child and mother, there are many symptoms that may arise in either party. Some symptoms may appear immediately, whereas others may take a few years to become readily apparent. 

The symptoms depend on the type of injury, the extent of the injury, and the location of the injury. Further, different symptoms are likely to develop at different ages. It is essential for parents or caregivers to pay close attention to the child for any health changes, especially during the first few formative years of the child’s life.

How do I know if a forceps delivery birth injury was caused as a result of medical negligence?

If you believe you or your child may be the victim of birth injury due to medical negligence, you must ask yourself these two questions

  1. What is the minimum standard of adequate care in a situation like this?
  1. How did the care that the patient received fall short of that standard?

Medical professionals are required to abide by a reasonable standard of care for their patients. If you believe that your medical professional failed to provide such a standard of care and caused any birth injuries, you are likely to have a medical negligence claim on your hands. In order to have successful medical malpractice claims, it’s important that you have access to any relevant medical records that may reveal the physician’s failure to provide a reasonable standard of care.

When should I consult a birth injury lawyer after a forceps delivery injury?

A client meeting with a birth injury attorney

If you would like to take legal action against birth injury medical negligence, the birth injury attorneys at Bachus & Schanker are here to help. The esteemed attorneys at Bachus & Schanker can help you understand the steps of a birth injury medical malpractice lawsuit. They will make sure to guide you through the entire legal proceeding. Birth injury cases can be mentally and emotionally draining for the parties involved. The Bachus & Schanker attorneys are here to make the process as comfortable and successful as possible. 


Birth injury symptoms. (2023).

Infant Skull Fracture. (2023).

Medical negligence. (2023).

Neonatal seizures. (2023).

What happens during a forceps delivery? (2023).

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Written and Legally Reviewed By: Kyle Bachus

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Kyle is a member of the Colorado and Florida Bar associations and has served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association for more than twenty years in total. Over the years, Kyle has achieved justice for many clients. He has served on numerous committees and repeatedly won recognition from his peers at both the state and national level. He is proud of the role he has played in the passage of state and national legislation to protect consumers and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer.