Forceps Delivery Complications Warning Signs

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

Forceps are used in difficult vaginal births to help guide the baby out of the birth canal. While the use of forceps is generally safe, using the tool can sometimes lead to complications for both the baby and mother. Understanding what to watch for can help you manage any issues promptly. Learn about the warning signs of forceps delivery complications and what to do if they arise.

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What Are the Warning Signs of Forceps Delivery Complications?

Warning signs of forceps delivery complications vary depending on who was affected and how badly they were injured.

Babies may have marks or irregularities in head shape. They may also show signs of fetal distress and excessive fussiness. Mothers might experience abnormal bleeding or severe pain as initial signs.

Immediate medical attention is essential if forceps delivery complications warning signs are present.

Talk with our labor and delivery nurses if you think you or your baby was harmed by improper use of forceps. Our registered nurses have decades of combined experience and are here to help.

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Recognizing Forceps Delivery Complications Warning Signs

Detecting signs of complications from forceps delivery is crucial to ensure an immediate and appropriate response. Taking a proactive approach can prevent severe and lasting damage.

Here are several forceps delivery complications warning signs in babies and mothers.

Warnings Signs of Forceps Delivery Complications in the Baby

Warning signs of forceps delivery complications in babies include the following:

Bleeding in the Skull

If the medical team clamps a baby’s head too tightly during delivery, they may cause bleeding in the skull. In severe cases, this can cause blood vessels to bleed into the brain tissue, causing intracranial hemorrhage (ICH) or intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH).

Facial Cuts

Improper use of forceps may lead to facial cuts, abrasions, and bumps on the baby’s face. These should heal on their own within several days to weeks.

Head Bumps or Bruises

The use of forceps can cause head bumps and bruises called hematomas.

One type of hematoma, cephalohematoma, is commonly associated with the use of forceps. A cephalohematoma occurs when a small pool of blood develops into a mass under the baby’s scalp.

Cephalohematomas are usually harmless but may increase the risk of anemia, jaundice, and infections.

Muscle Weakness in the Face

Forceps delivery complications warning signs may also include temporary muscle weakness in the face (facial palsy). This could occur if the delivery team clamped the tongs onto facial nerves. In most cases, the weakness will go away once the nerves heal.

Newborn Jaundice

When forceps cause significant bruising and bleeding in the baby’s scalp, blood cells may release excess bilirubin (a yellow-orange pigment formed in the liver by breaking down red blood cells), causing the baby’s skin to turn yellow.

Untreated jaundice can lead to life-threatening brain damage called kernicterus. If you notice signs of jaundice, seek medical attention for your baby without delay.


Improper use of forceps may cause brain damage that can lead to seizures. These are bursts of uncontrolled electrical activity between brain cells that cause abnormal movements, states of awareness, behaviors, or sensations.

If your delivery team used forceps to help deliver your baby, and you think they caused harm, you may have legal options. Get a free case review now to find out.

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Maternal Forceps Delivery Complications Warning Signs

Forceps delivery complications can also affect mothers. Here are some warning signs to be aware of.

Blood Clots

After an assisted birth, women have a higher chance of blood clots forming in the veins of their pelvis and legs. New mothers can prevent blood clots by moving around as much as possible after the delivery.

Excessive Bleeding

Mothers may experience excessive bleeding or postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) after a forceps-assisted birth. This is because forceps-assisted delivery is often used for women with uteruses that don’t contract strongly enough.

The lack of contractions can mean not enough pressure is put on the bleeding vessels where the placenta is attached. This may cause excessive bleeding.

Did you know?

Up to 5% of mothers develop severe bleeding called postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth. PPH can be life-threatening if it is not treated properly.

Pain in the Perineum

Women who undergo forceps-assisted delivery and an episiotomy (a cut to create more space for the baby) are more likely to experience trauma to the perineum (the area between the opening of the vagina and the anus).

This is particularly common for those giving birth to their first child. It can make activities like sitting and walking painful.

Uterine Rupture

If doctors don’t use forceps properly, they can damage the uterine wall, leading to uterine rupture. Uterine rupture occurs when the uterine wall tears open. This is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical treatment.

Vaginal Tearing

The use of forceps during delivery can lead to excessive vaginal tearing. Complications of excessive vaginal tearing include severe pain, incontinence (inability to control urine and bowels), and delayed return to sexual intercourse.

Weakened Pelvis

Forceps use can result in a weakened pelvis, which can lead to pelvic organ prolapse (sagging of pelvic organs), dyspareunia (pain during intercourse), and vulvodynia (chronic discomfort of the entrance of the vaginal area).

Dangers of Untreated Birth Injuries Caused by a Forceps Delivery

If your baby has untreated injuries from a forceps delivery, they can lead to developmental challenges, cognitive impairments, and other serious health conditions. These could include permanent damage, such as brain injury that leads to cerebral palsy and skull fractures.

In mothers, ignoring warning signs of forceps delivery complications can result in serious injury, causing lasting physical and emotional pain.

For these reasons, it is important for medical professionals to prevent problems by recognizing forceps delivery complications warning signs at an early stage. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to limit the long-term impact.

Responding to Forceps Delivery Complications Warning Signs

Delivery teams have the duty to spot and properly respond to the warning signs of forceps delivery complications. When this does not happen, medical negligence may be involved.

It’s very important to act quickly and correctly when there are warning signs of forceps delivery complications to avoid serious harm to both the baby and the mother.

If something goes wrong after the use of forceps, you may want to connect with a birth injury lawyer. They can help you understand your options and may be able to pursue compensation.

Seek Legal Help for Forceps Delivery Complications

If you or your child was harmed after your obstetrician used forceps for delivery, you probably have questions. You may even have medical expenses that you weren’t expecting.

When medical malpractice is to blame, getting legal support can ensure that your family’s rights are protected and bring peace of mind. A knowledgeable birth injury lawyer can guide you through your options and help secure any compensation you may be entitled to.

The Birth Injury Justice Center partners with some of the best birth injury lawyers in the country. See if we can connect you to a skilled lawyer near you with a free case review.

Forceps Delivery Complications Warning Signs FAQs

What is the most common complication of forceps delivery?

The most common forceps complications for babies are trauma to the head and brain and spinal cord injury. These injuries can be mild or severe, sometimes causing lifelong disabilities.

For mothers, the most common complications of forceps-assisted vaginal delivery are vaginal tears, tears of the rectum wall, and urinary incontinence after delivery.

What damage can forceps delivery cause to a newborn?

A forceps delivery can cause the following injuries to newborns:

  • Bleeding in the skull
  • Brain injury
  • Bumps and bruises on the head
  • Facial injuries and lacerations (cuts)
  • Nerve damage, such as Erb’s palsy (brachial plexus palsy)
  • Seizures

How soon will you know if a forceps delivery caused complications in your baby?

Some complications, such as cuts or marks on your baby’s head, will show up immediately. However, bruises and bleeding in the skull may take days or weeks for symptoms to appear.

If your baby suffered from brain damage, you may not notice forceps delivery complications warning signs until they get older. Sometimes, it is only then that you’ll notice your child missing milestones or showing signs of developmental delays.

Talk with your child’s doctor immediately if you believe they are showing forceps delivery complications warning signs.

Can forceps cause damage to mothers?

Yes, complications from forceps deliveries can cause the following injuries to mothers:

  • Bladder or urethra injury
  • Blood clots
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Excessive vaginal tearing
  • Uterine rupture

Can you sue for forceps delivery complications?

If your doctor failed to use forceps properly according to the standard of care and caused serious harm to you or your baby, you may be able to take legal action.

You may also have legal options if your doctor failed to detect forceps delivery complications warning signs and did not provide proper treatment as a result.

Get a free case review now to see if we can help.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

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