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Operative Vaginal Delivery: A Cause of Birth Injury or Is It?


Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology: September 2007 - Volume 50 - Issue 3 - p 563-581
doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e31811eaa39
Prevention of Birth Injuries

Operative vaginal delivery has been maligned since the days of W.J. Little with the word “forceps” becoming nearly synonymous with “Birth Injury” and “Cerebral Palsy.” However in his presentation to the Obstetrical Society of London in 1861, Little's emphasis was on difficult labors being the culprit in subsequent disabilities in the offspring. Instrumented deliveries in that era were the end result of a long, obstructed labor performed for maternal benefit and to avoid a destructive procedure to the fetus thus allowing a chance at life. If there had been a normal progress in labor, operative assistance for delivery would not have been needed. Thus, was it the instrument or the obstructed labor that led to fetal injury? In this article, we will review what injuries to the fetus and the mother can be directly attributable to the instrument. We will explore the processes of labor, conduct of labor management, and concurrent fetal factors that can modulate the occurrence of birth trauma. Evidence regarding inexperience and improper use as contributing to injury will also be explored.

Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, California

Correspondence: Dena R. Towner, MD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of California, Davis, 4860 Y Street, Ste. 2500, Sacramento, CA 95817. E-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.