Operative vaginal delivery refers to childbirth procedures where special instruments such as forceps or a vacuum are used to assist the mother in delivering her baby. It is usually chosen when labor has halted or if there are concerns about the baby’s health during the final stages of delivery. It may also be required if the mother is unable to push effectively or if there are health risks associated with a prolonged delivery.

Key Takeaways

  1. Operative vaginal delivery refers to the use of special instruments, such as forceps or a vacuum device, to assist in the delivery of a baby during the second stage of labor.
  2. It is opted for when there are concerns about the baby’s or mother’s health, strain on the mother from pushing, or when the baby is in an abnormal position. Despite the associated risks, it is generally safer than a cesarean section if carried out by a skilled practitioner.
  3. While it can save lives and prevent harm, it does carry certain risks. These can involve minor injuries to the baby’s scalp, potential bruising or swelling, and more serious problems such as skull fractures or bleeding within the skull. For the mother, risks include injuries to the lower genital tract, difficulty urinating post-delivery, and short-term incontinence.


The term “operative vaginal delivery” holds significant importance in the realm of motherhood mainly because it refers to a critical aspect of childbirth.

It is a form of instrumental delivery where obstetric forceps or a vacuum device are used to aid in the extraction of the baby from the birth canal during the second stage of labor.

This method is typically resorted to when there are concerns about the baby’s heart rate, prolonged labor, or if the mother is unable to push the baby out due to certain health issues such as exhaustion or medical conditions like heart disease.

Therefore, understanding this term is essential for expecting mothers as it helps them better comprehend possible delivery scenarios and make informed decisions regarding their birthing process.


The purpose of an operative vaginal delivery is to expedite the birthing process and assist in the delivery of a child who may not otherwise be able to be delivered naturally. This could arise from situations where there may be fetal distress that requires immediate delivery, a mother is too exhausted to push effectively, or when the baby’s head is not in the right position.

The intervention therefore serves the key aim of ensuring the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby by decreasing the potential risks and complications that can occur during labor. The process of an operative vaginal delivery involves the use of medical instruments typically either forceps or a vacuum device.

Forceps are shaped like large spoons or salad tongs that aid in efficiently guiding the baby’s head out of the birth canal. A vacuum extractor, on the other hand, is a suction device that gently pulls on the baby’s head to ease him or her out.

These techniques are primarily employed when optimal pushing isn’t leading to progress, and can safely facilitate the completion of the birthing process.

Examples of Operative vaginal delivery

Case 1: A 30-year-old woman in Texas was pregnant with her first child. Thanks to her regular prenatal checkups, the healthcare provider identified that the baby was in breech position. To avoid any complications during delivery, the healthcare provider decided to perform an operative vaginal delivery with forceps – a common type of operative vaginal delivery, to assist in turning and guiding the baby out of the birth canal.

Case 2: A woman in New York had been in labor for several hours. Her cervix was fully dilated but the baby’s descent down the birth canal was slower than expected. Due to exhaustion and prolonged labor, the healthcare professional opted for an operative vaginal delivery using a vacuum extractor. The device was attached to the baby’s head to help guide the baby out with each of the mother’s contractions.

Case 3: In London, a pregnant woman encountered complications during the delivery of her twins. While the first baby was delivered smoothly, the second baby presented shoulder first, causing a condition called shoulder dystocia. The healthcare team decided to perform an operative vaginal delivery using forceps to safely deliver the second twin. In this case, the operative vaginal delivery was invaluable in ensuring the health and safety of the second twin and the mother.

FAQ: Operative Vaginal Delivery

What is an operative vaginal delivery?

An operative vaginal delivery is a type of childbirth where the doctor uses special instruments such as forceps or a vacuum to help move the baby through the birth canal.

When is an operative vaginal delivery needed?

An operative vaginal delivery may be needed if labor is not progressing, if the baby’s health requires an immediate delivery, or if the mother is unable to push the baby out due to exhaustion or health concerns.

What are the risks associated with operative vaginal delivery?

While operative vaginal delivery can help safely deliver a baby in certain situations, it also carries some risks. These can include minor injuries to the baby, increased risk of significant tearing for the mother, and potentially, longer recovery time post childbirth.

What are the benefits of operative vaginal delivery?

Operative vaginal delivery can speed up the delivery process, potentially avoiding the need for a cesarean section. This can be especially beneficial in situations where prolonging delivery could result in complications for the mother or baby.

Does an operative vaginal delivery affect future pregnancies and deliveries?

In most cases, a previous operative vaginal delivery does not significantly affect future pregnancies or deliveries. However, specific risks may depend on the reason for the initial operative delivery and the specific method used.

Related Motherhood Terms

  • Forceps delivery
  • Vacuum extraction
  • Assisted birthing
  • Childbirth complications
  • Episiotomy

Sources for More Information

  • World Health Organization (WHO): The WHO provides a wealth of knowledge on a wide range of health topics, including maternity care and operative vaginal delivery.
  • Mayo Clinic: This non-profit organization’s website offers comprehensive medical information, including explanations of various procedures such as operative vaginal delivery.
  • American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP): The AAFP’s website includes a range of patient resources and clinical recommendations, potentially including information on operative vaginal delivery.
  • American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG): A professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, offering a variety of materials for both medical professionals and the general public.