Forceps and Ventouse

Forceps and ventouse
Both are instruments used in an assisted birth which may have become necessary either because the baby is showing signs of foetal distress and needs to be born quickly, baby is in an awkward position or mum is just too exhausted and does not have enough energy to push her baby out.

Forceps look like large salad servers that come in two parts. The mother many need an episiotomy (cut) in the perineum for the curved bit (unfortunately called a ‘blade’!) to be placed in the vagina and fitted around the baby’s head. Once the second ‘blade’ has been inserted, the handles clip together to hold the baby’s head firmly (but cannot be squeezed any tighter). The obstetrician will then pull as the mother pushes during a contraction.

A ventouse (often known as a Kiwi Cup) works in a similar fashion in that it is applied to the baby’s head whilst it is still in the vagina. Suction is created by pumping the handle and then the obstetrician pulls while the mother pushes. The decision between whether forceps or ventouse is used depends very much on the preference of the care giver and the situation it is being used for.

Compared to forceps – ventouse is:

  • Less likely to be successful at helping the baby to be born
  • More likely to leave your baby with a temporary swelling on her head (cephalohematoma)
  • Less likely to cause significant damage to the perineum or vagina

Compared to ventouse – forceps are:

  • More likely to be successful at helping the baby to be born
  • More likely to cause redness or slight bruising on the side of the baby’s face
  • More likely to involve an episiotomy, a severe tear, or both
  • More likely to cause significant damage to the perineum and vagina
  • Cause short-term incontinence problems, such as being unable to control the bladder, wind or bowel movements It may appear the ventouse is the best option, as it causes less trauma to mum and baby, but they can’t be used for babies born before the 34th week of pregnancy (as the baby’s skull is too soft to cope with the pressure of the vacuum) or if the baby is lying face first.
  • If the baby needs to be born quickly, forceps are often the better choice as they are more likely to be successful and trying one instrument first and then moving on to another may cause more damage.

They sound absolutely gruesome and I have to admit, they are not my favourite way of helping a baby into this world,
However, if it comes to needing either of them, they can save lives. The best way to avoid needing them (or massively reducing the chances of needing them) is to stay at home as long as possible, remain as upright as possible during labour, avoid intervention and epidural as long as it is safe to do so, listen to your body during the pushing stage and refrain from lying on your back.