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Obstetrical Forceps: When Breathe, Breathe, Breathe... Push Is Not Enough

When a mother delivers a child, she expects her doctor or midwife to use the most efficient tools necessary to successfully and quickly deliver her child safely while smoothing over the difficulties of labor. A tool such as the forceps, which have had a colorful journey through history, is precisely what obstetrician/gynecologist, or OB/GYNs, and midwives rely on for childbirth procedures when the proper birthing conditions allow. Overwhelmingly, the use of forceps is indicated when rapid delivery is necessary in an emergency. Because they’re fairly safe and gentle when used properly, they greatly shorten the end of exhausting labors.

The use of obstetrical forceps has been practices since their “discovery” in 1831, when a woman found the forceps in a trunk along with evidence of their use by Peter Chamberlen, who died in 1631 in England. It is known that Chamberlen was the first to use the technique implementing the forceps that we still see today. Although at the time the use of such an instrument was kept secret by the Chamberlen family, it is said that the use of obstetrical forceps was used on a number of royal births, and that the technique contributed to the success of the known difficult births.

Today, doctors, OB/GYNs and midwives benefit from the use of obstetrical forceps because the tool aids in vaginal delivery of the baby, because of their unique design. Equipped with two blades and a handle, forceps are now used to ease a delivery or because of problems with fetal distress or fetal position in cases where C-section is not necessary or is too risky. The forceps are designed to grasp the fetal head when it is in the vagina and facilitate delivery by the use of traction and guidance without causing injury to the mother or baby.

Obstetrical Forceps consist of two movable arms, or blades, and the blades have two curves; the cephalic curve provides a good application to the fetal head, and the pelvic curve allows the blades to fit in with the curve of the birth canal. There are two locking mechanisms which prevent the baby’s skull from being crushed by forceps, the English lock and the French lock.

Some Obstetrical Forceps have detachable handles, rods or tapes which allow traction in the pelvic axis. If used incorrectly, they can cause serious harm. But, when used correctly, they actually provide a gentler delivery for a baby's head than no forceps at all. This is because proper forceps placement provides a halo of metal which surrounds the baby's skull, protecting it. All of the force is spread over the metal halo and is applied at the cheek bones, so the baby's brain is not subjected to the compression-decompression forces that the vaginal sidewalls exert against it as the head descends.

With the variety of surgical instruments available in today's medical market place, “the right tool, for the right job” is a statement which can not be understated, especially when it comes to the well being of patients.

Submitted by:

Gary Gordon

To learn more visit our surgical instruments and equipment section or read more about the applications for obstetrical forceps.




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