What Is Delivery by Vacuum Extraction?
A vacuum delivery occurs when a doctor uses a vacuum extractor device to help a child exit the womb during a prolonged or difficult delivery. This type of delivery may be used if a child is unable to exit the birth canal naturally as the mother pushes.
Assisted delivery occurs in about 3% of vaginal deliveries in the US, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
A doctor may perform an episiotomy (surgical cut of the perineum) to guide the child through the vaginal opening. The doctor may also give the mother an epidural to ease any pain.
Types of Injuries Caused by Vacuum Extractors
Vacuum delivery can lead to a number of medical conditions and injuries to both the mother and child when performed incorrectly. Vacuum birth can lead to Erb’s palsy, brain bleeds, cerebral palsy, skull fractures, and more.
Brachial Plexus Injuries
Vacuum-assisted deliveries can cause brachial plexus injuries — including Erb’s palsy and shoulder dystocia — if a baby’s arm, head, shoulder, or neck is being pulled by the extractor while they are stuck in the birth canal.
Injuries to the brachial plexus network of nerves vary in severity and may result in long-term complications. According to Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Nova Scotia, around 80% to 96% of babies will completely recover from Erb’s palsy.
Bleeding in the brain is another common risk of vacuum delivery. Brain bleeds can occur when excessive suction from a vacuum pump causes blood vessels to rupture and accumulate in the tissue covering the skull. Ruptured blood vessels can put excessive pressure on the child’s brain.
The condition can take several weeks or months to heal itself, but may lead to serious health complications and brain damage in more severe cases. Brain damage from brain bleeds may cause physical and neurological issues depending on the area of the damage.
In addition to brachial plexus injuries and brain bleeding, there are several other injuries that can occur from a delivery with a vacuum.
Other injuries caused by vacuum delivery include:
- Bruising or swelling of the head or brain
- Cerebral palsy
- Facial nerve palsy
- Hearing loss
- Scalp lacerations
- Severe jaundice
- Skull fractures
If your child experienced any type of birth injury from improper use of vacuum delivery, it may be considered medical negligence.
What Are Vacuum Extractors?
A vacuum extractor is an assistive delivery device used during an operative vaginal delivery to progress a difficult childbirth.
The vacuum extractor is a large device with a soft suction cup at the end. A doctor will place the vacuum cup onto the fetal head and use a gentle amount of suction from the vacuum to aid the child through the birth canal during a contraction.
Assisted delivery using a vacuum device is encouraged during prolonged labor. According to a study from ACOG, fetal mortality was higher when the second stage of labor (cervix has been fully dilated) exceeded two hours.
Why Are Vacuum Extractors Used?
Vacuum extractors are used during difficult or prolonged vaginal births. There are several reasons for vacuum delivery. One reason is to adjust the infant’s position in the womb.
During a typical childbirth, an infant will naturally descend into the mother’s birth canal as the mother pushes. If a doctor detects that an infant is struggling to exit the womb on their own, they may opt to use vacuum delivery to assist the process.
Doctors may use assisted vacuum delivery if:
- The mother is pushing, but labor is not progressing
- The mother is too tired to continuing pushing
- The mother has a health condition preventing her from pushing too long
- The baby has an abnormal heart rate
When used appropriately, vacuum extractors can be beneficial in delivering a healthy baby during a stressful childbirth.
When Should Doctors Not Use Vacuum Extraction?
Although vacuum delivery can be a helpful option for prolonged or difficult vaginal birth, there are vacuum-assisted delivery guidelines that outline when not to use vacuum delivery in certain situations.
Doctors should not consider vacuum delivery if:
- The mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant
- The baby has been diagnosed with a bone or bleeding disorder
- The baby’s head has not moved past the middle of the birth canal
- The baby cannot fit through the pelvis due to the child’s size or size of pelvis
- The baby’s arms, buttocks, feet, or shoulders are leading the way through the birth canal
Doctors that use vacuum delivery during high-risk situations like those above can cause serious complications for both the mother and child. You may be able to take legal action against medical professionals that perform improper assisted vacuum deliveries.
Vacuum Delivery Side Effects
Vacuum delivery may also result in short-term and long-term side effects for both the mother and child.
Most assisted birth injuries are visible within ten hours after birth. However, some side effects may take weeks to develop.
Additionally, many vacuum extractor-related injuries are able to heal themselves within a few weeks or months. More severe side effects may become chronic and require intense medical intervention.
Vacuum delivery side effects for mothers may include:
- Anemia due to blood loss
- Blood clots
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain
- Vaginal tears leading to infection
Vacuum delivery side effects for babies may include:
- Bleeding under the brain
- Bleeding under the scalp
- Bruising and swelling of baby’s head
- Misshapen head
- Skull fractures
- Weakness or paralysis on one side of body
Both the mother and child can make a full recovery depending on symptom severity and prompt treatment. It is important to consult a doctor or specialist to treat any injuries sustained from a vacuum delivery.
Get Help After a Vacuum Extraction Injury
Doctors are trained and expected to be prepared during emergency situations that may occur during a difficult delivery.
Parents who suspect their child’s vacuum delivery injury was preventable and caused by medical malpractice may be entitled to financial compensation. Birth injury lawsuits can help families get life-changing compensation to help pay for their child’s treatment.
Get a free legal case review today to learn more about taking legal action for your child’s vacuum delivery injury.
Vacuum-Assisted Delivery FAQs
How common is vacuum delivery?
Vacuum delivery is commonly used in situations of difficult or prolonged childbirth. Assisted delivery occurs in about 3% of vaginal deliveries in the US, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Can vacuum delivery cause brain damage?
In some instances, vacuum delivery may cause brain damage. Excessive force and pressure from the suction cup of the vacuum extractor can cause injury to the brain. Severe injury and bleeding may, in turn, lead to brain damage.
Can vacuum extraction lead to birth injuries?
Vacuum deliveries have a higher risk of birth injuries if performed incorrectly and/or with excessive force. Pressure from vacuum deliveries can affect a child’s brain, scalp, skull, neck, arms, shoulders, or torso.
Vacuum delivery can lead to several birth injuries such as cerebral palsy, brain damage, Erb’s palsy, infant hematomas, severe jaundice, skull fractures, and more.
Are vacuum extractors safer than forceps?
Vacuum delivery has become more common than a forceps delivery to assist with childbirth.
There is a decreased risk to the mother and a smaller chance of needing to perform a cesarean section (C-section) during a vacuum delivery compared to the use of forceps. Also, vacuum deliveries generally require less anesthesia and medication than using forceps.