The 8 Most Important Instruments in the Delivery Room and What They Do

Often times, labor and delivery can be a terrifying moment for a new mom and dad, but it shouldn’t be. Try not to be alarmed when you see your nurse putting on their gloves and hat. It’s simply keeps everything sterile and ensures you and your baby are perfectly safe. Their instruments may look scary, but there’s no need to be afraid of them. They’re only here to help.

Mentally preparing for your labor and delivery is common, but keep in mind you can’t control what happens the day your babe decides to come. Just remain calm (if you can) and trust that your doctor has everything under control.

If you’re wondering about some of those scary-looking utensils, we’ll take the eight most important instruments in the delivery room and explain what they do.

8 Amniotic Hook

The amniotic hook is shaped similarly to a crochet hook, but isn’t used for anything that involves yarn. This hook is used to rupture your membranes during the beginning of labor if it doesn’t happen naturally. This is more commonly referred to as “breaking your water.”

As you probably know, your baby is surrounded by an amniotic sac. This is where your fetus grows and develops. Sometimes, near the end of pregnancy and closer to labor, the amniotic sac may rupture on its own. Many women mistake this feeling for continuous urination, despite the gushing flow of fluid they show in the movies. It is, in fact, the membranes rupturing, meaning labor will occur soon if it hasn’t already started. Some women are not even aware that their water has broken.

Your doctor may have to rupture your membranes in the hospital while you are laboring. The sac needs to break in order for your baby to come out, so the amniotic hook comes in handy in these instances. This procedure is actually extremely common. Your doctor will simply insert it in order to puncture your amniotic sac, and release the fluid. Once your amniotic sac is fully ruptured, you’ll continue to labor and begin pushing within hours.

7 Forceps

Forceps function much like tongs, but can be used to shift the baby’s position or help to guide the head. If your labor has been long and tiring or your baby is becoming distressed, forceps can assist in the birth as an alternative method to using a vacuum (or a ventouse.)

Both methods are completely safe, but one may be preferred over the other given certain circumstances. The method your doctor chooses will depend on your progress, the position of your baby, and how difficult your doctor believes your labor will be considering these other factors.

Forceps that are used during a birth are curved to cradle your baby’s head and have been used to help in guiding millions of babies through the vagina. They are generally recommended when you’ve been pushing for an extended length of time and your baby needs help to get through the last part of your birth canal.

If your baby is in the right position (anterior – with the top of their head at the beginning of your birthing canal facing your back,) using forceps may not be necessary. If you do need an assisted delivery, don’t be discouraged. You don’t have much control of your baby whether they’re in your womb or outside of it, so you may as well take all the help you can get.

6 Scissors

Unfortunately, scissors are kept around in case you need an episiotomy (ouch.) To avoid rupturing your tissue, episiotomies are necessary in the event you are having a difficult time delivering. Luckily, the need for episiotomies has drastically decreased, so the majority of women don’t need one. But, if you opt for the epidural, you won’t even feel it!

An additional pair of scissors will be found with your doctor’s tools. This one is shaped differently, with more curves to the blades. Although different, these scissors are typically used to cut the umbilical cord by your spouse or doctor. Don’t worry; there aren’t any nerves in the umbilical cord. Neither you nor your baby will feel any pain from the cord being cut. Your doctor will place a clamp on one side of the cord while holding the hemostat (another instrument that will be explained later) to clamp the other side. The cut will be made in between the two clamps, and will leave your little one with a belly button once the residual cord falls off.

The umbilical cord provides nutrients to your baby while they are inside of the womb. When they are on the outside, they get their nutrients from your breast milk or formula, so they no longer need the umbilical cord. It’s a very simple procedure that requires no worry.

5 Speculum

The speculum is typically used during the beginning of your labor to gauge your progress. It’s a hinged instrument that is closed upon insertion and then opened so your doctor can see further into your vagina. Your doctor will periodically check your cervix and dilation using the speculum. Many patients are familiar with the speculum, as many doctors use it during annual exams. Throughout pregnancy, speculums can be used to check the cervix for cervical cancers or any other issues you may be having.

Although it may look intimidating, the speculum won’t cause you any pain. The instrument is made out of metal, so it will feel cool to the touch. Other than that, it’s not uncomfortable. Plus, it’s always fun to hear how dilated you are when you’re laboring. It makes you feel like you’re making progress to meet your sweet baby.

4 Laparoscopic Sponges

It may seem scary that your doctor keeps these on hand, considering they are used to control bleeding, but don’t be scared of sponges. Instead, rest assured that your doctor is prepared in the slim chance something does go awry. They look similar to gauze pads, but they are able to absorb more liquid, making them ideal for surgical procedures including delivery.

Your doctor will use laparoscopic sponges in case you have excessive amounts of bleeding, which is actually common throughout the delivery. To keep bleeding under control, the doctor will apply pressure with this extremely absorbent sponge. 

3 Sutures

Often used in conjunction with scissors for an episiotomy, sutures are used to stitch up a cut or torn tissue. You may not notice sutures sitting along with the other instruments, but they are by far one of the most important tools in the delivery room.

You may be more familiar with the word “stitches” when referring to sutures. However, stitching is actually the act of using sutures to close a wound. Sutures actually hold your tissues close so they can grow back together.

Your doctor may need to use sutures to stitch you back up after a tear or an episiotomy. Although it sounds painful, you shouldn’t feel it. If you didn’t opt for an epidural, doctors will use a local anesthetic (like lidocaine) to numb the area where they’ll be stitching. 

2 Vacuum

If you’re having a difficult time laboring or pushing your baby out, your doctor may use a vacuum (also referred to as a ventouse.) This apparatus is similar to forceps, as it helps extract the baby’s head through your vagina. The suction on the vacuum sticks to the baby’s crowning head, but you’ll still need to push gently. Devices like the vacuum and forceps simply assist in your delivery. They are there to assist you in pushing your baby out, but they aren’t able to actually remove the baby from the birthing canal by themselves.

If you need extra guidance from a vacuum, it is possible that your baby’s head may come out cone-shaped. This may happen if you’re pushing for an extended amount of time. It is a regular procedure, and your baby’s head should go back to a normal shape after a few weeks. 

1 Hemostat

A hemostat closely resembles scissors, although they aren’t meant to be sharp. They don’t have blades as scissors do. The hemostat is used for a multitude of different things, but most importantly, it holds the umbilical cord before its cut. Your spouse or your doctor may do the cutting.

This may not be the only time your doctor reaches for the hemostat. It may also be used to assist in holding sutures or for clamping to contain blood. The ends of the hemostat are slightly curved upwards to ensure the doctor gets a good grasp on the blood vessels, sutures, tissues, or the umbilical cord.

While these are eight extremely important instruments, there are others that you may spot around your labor and delivery room. If you have time to look around, you’ll probably see a scalpel, some sponge holders, and many buckets of water. While a scalpel sounds terrifying, your doctor only keeps it handy in case of an emergency cesarean section (C-section).

The other things you may see are pretty self-explanatory; a sponge holder is mainly used to—you guessed it—hold the sponges. Although they look similar to forceps, your doctor won’t use them on your body. They are only there to hold the gauze.

Lastly, he room may have a few buckets of water to keep everything clean throughout your labor and delivery. Although it’s a messy process, the hospital staff will keep it so clean, you won’t even notice.

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re expecting a little bundle of joy fairly soon. You may be gearing up for what to expect when the time comes. But you may not even notice these instruments by your doctor’s side because you’ll be too preoccupied with other things.

Don’t scare yourself about the labor and delivery experience. Just know that your labor and delivery will be over before you know it. You’ll soon be holding your little one, enjoying precious moments together. The instruments your doctor may or may not have won’t mean much while you’re having a baby.

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