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Forceps May Lower the Risk of Seizures During Birth

Comparing three common methods of aiding delivery - Cesarean section, vacuum devices and forceps - a new study indicates that newborns may have a lower risk of suffering seizures if doctors use forceps to aid in childbirth.

Published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the study looked at the risk of newborns suffering birth injuries, specific neurological complications - bleeding in or around the brain and seizures - during assisted childbirth. Researchers, led by obstetrician Dr. Erika F. Werner of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, studied data from over 400,000 childbirths to first-time mothers in New York City between 1995 and 2003 to reach their conclusions.

As an article by Reuters reports, results of the study show that newborns are 45 percent less likely to suffer seizures when forceps are used to aid in difficult deliveries, as compared to newborns whose deliveries are aided by C-sections or vacuum devices. Further, the study indicates that newborns are less likely to suffer subdural hemorrhages (bleeding around the brain) when C-sections are performed to aid in difficult deliveries.

Explaining the results of the study, Dr. Werner speculated that babies had less of a risk of suffering seizures - which can be caused when the brain is deprived of oxygen - when forceps are used to aid in delivery because, in general, forceps allow doctors to deliver babies more quickly than the other methods.

Reuters reports that the number of C-sections performed during childbirths rose over 20 percent from 1997 to 2007, with approximately one-third of newborns being delivered by C-section in 2007. Likewise, deliveries aided by vacuum devices have also risen in recent decades, with nearly six percent of childbirths in 2003 being vacuum-assisted.

Yet, while instances of the other two methods of aiding childbirth have been on the rise in the past few years, the use of forceps has declined. Reuters notes that five percent of childbirths in the U.S. in 1990 were forceps-aided, yet, by 2007 this delivery method was used in less than one percent of all childbirths.

While the study does not recommend one delivery method over another, Dr. Werner was quoted by Reuters as saying, "The C-section rate is going up, without evidence that it's actually better."

The results of the study show that regardless of the delivery method used, the risk of newborns suffering neurological complications during birth were relatively minor. Specifically, 0.12 percent of newborns delivered with forceps and 0.3 percent of newborns delivered via C-section or vacuum devices suffered seizures during childbirth. However, this study was looking at specific neurological complications, not all birth injuries. And, when doctors do not carefully or properly deliver a baby, regardless of the method, there are risks of injuries and complications for the mother and baby.

C-Section Delivery Complications

During a Cesarean section, a baby is delivered after the doctor makes incisions in the mother's abdomen and uterus and the baby is delivered through the incisions. C-sections are invasive surgeries that can have serious complications, especially for the mother.

According to the Mayo Clinic, C-sections put mothers at risk of:

  • Endometritis, which is inflammation and infection of the membrane lining the uterus
  • Increased blood loss or hemorrhaging
  • Blood clots
  • Infection to the incision site
  • Damage to abdominal organs
  • Complications during future pregnancies

C-sections put babies at risk of:

  • Delivery injuries such as cuts and nicks from the scalpel
  • Transient tachypnea, which is a abnormally fast breathing during the first days after birth

Forceps Delivery Risks

Forceps are a medical instrument that is used to help gently extract the baby's head from the birth canal. To help with childbirth, forceps are inserted into the birth canal to either grip or guide the baby.

Forceps put mothers at risk of:

  • Lacerations
  • Rupture of the uterus
  • Rectal tearing
  • Injury to the bladder
  • Bleeding
  • Hematomas

Forceps also pose significant risks to babies during the delivery process, including:

  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Bruising
  • Lacerations to the face and head
  • Facial nerve injuries
  • Skull fractures
  • Bleeding on the brain

Childbirth is supposed to be a joyous occasion. So, it can be heartbreaking when a child or mother is injured by a doctor or other medical professional during the delivery. Speak with a knowledgeable attorney experienced in birth injury claims if either you or your child was injured during childbirth.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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