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Why would my doctor use forceps or a vacuum during delivery?

When you're going to deliver your child, the last thing you probably want to think about is whether or not the doctor is using the right tools. There are a few ways a baby can be assisted during delivery, and the tools used are normally either a vacuum or forceps.

In a natural birth, your child would usually arrive with pushing alone. However, that won't always be the case, because sometimes babies need help. Doctors are meant to know when to use these tools for effective assistance. If these tools were used during your delivery, then you had an assisted delivery.

Forceps cradle your baby's head to help it through the birth canal. They are similar to spoons in most cases, and the spoons are placed on the baby's head for assistance. A vacuum is different because it applies suction to the child's head. The doctor holds the vacuum's handle and guides your child out of the birth canal.

Neither of these tools is used routinely; they are specifically for difficult or slow labors. There are some negatives to using them, though. Vacuum extraction can fail, and that may lead to a woman needing a C-section. The vacuum can also lead to retinal hemorrhages in the baby as well as cephalhematoma. Both are caused by trauma during birth.

Forceps can similarly cause concerns, but they are less likely to cause cephalhematomas in newborns. Vaginal tears are more likely, a facial nerve damage is a possibility for the baby. In either case, your doctor should discuss the risks before using a potentially dangerous technique.

Source: Healthline, "Forceps vs. Vacuum," Rachel Nall, accessed April 26, 2016

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