What are forceps and ventouse delivery?

Baby's foot

Forceps and ventouse are methods of assisted delivery, used when the movement of the baby through the birthing canal is difficult.

What are forceps and ventouse?


Forceps are simply large, metal spoon or tong-shaped instruments that are curved to allow them to fit around a baby’s head and provide purchase for an assisted delivery. During the birthing process, they are positioned around the baby’s head and joined together at the handles.

When the mother experiences a contraction the obstetrician or midwife responsible gently pulls in order to help extract the baby. Many different designs are produced, with some performing more specialist functions such as rotating the baby to a more suitable position for birth.

Generally speaking, forceps are more successful than ventouses in performing assisted deliveries, but they do carry a greater risk of vaginal tearing.


Ventouses are slightly more complex suction devices, again used to help an obstetrician or midwife provide extra pulling power during a mother’s contractions in order to extract the baby. They are comprised of a soft or hard plastic cup at the end of a long tube attached to a vacuum suction device, and during birth, the cup is attached firmly to your baby’s head.

Ventouses commonly leave behind a small swelling on your baby’s head, which is normally nothing to be worried about and will disappear quickly. They may also leave behind a small bruise, known as a cephalhaematoma. Ventouse delivery is less likely to cause vaginal tearing, but should never be used when the mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant as your baby’s head may be too fragile and soft.

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What is the correct process for a ventouse or forceps delivery?

Before an assisted delivery by ventouse or forceps is undertaken, your doctor should examine your bump and make an internal assessment of you and your baby’s position to ensure this is the right course of action. Where this is deemed to be the case but difficulties might reasonably be expected, you should be moved to an operating theatre in case you subsequently require a caesarean.

There are a number of instances where your doctor should anticipate that an assisted delivery by forceps or by Ventouse may be difficult:

  • Where the mother’s BMI exceeds 30.
  • Where your baby is exceptionally large.
  • Where the baby has settled in an unconventional “back-to-back” position, resting against the mother’s spine.
  • In instances where your baby’s head is not sufficiently low down in the birth canal.

Regardless of where your assisted delivery eventually takes place; your legs should be placed in stirrups at the side of your bed, the end of which will subsequently be removed. An empty bladder is essential for assisted delivery, so a catheter may be inserted in order to drain it. You should be given pain relief, which can come in the form of a vaginal injection (known as a “pudendal block”), an epidural, or a spinal anaesthetic.

Your baby’s heartbeat should be monitored throughout the process of a forceps or ventouse delivery, and it is commonplace for a paediatrician to attend.

Where any or all of the aforementioned precautions or steps are not properly observed and you subsequently suffer an injury either to yourself or to your baby, you may be entitled to make a compensation claim.

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