Vacuum Extraction Injuries

Quick Answer

Though the majority of vacuum extractions are successful and cause few complications, the procedure can put the mother and the child at risk of injury.

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What Is Vacuum Extraction?

A vacuum extraction, also known as ventouse, is a procedure performed to assist a complicated or prolonged delivery that threatens the safety of the baby or mother. Delivery assistance using a vacuum extractor or forceps occurs in about 5% of births.

The vacuum extraction device includes a soft cup that is firmly attached to the baby’s head and a vacuum pump for creating suction. Typically, the mother will push while the doctor guides and pulls the baby through the birth canal during a vaginal delivery. The doctor will remove the cup once the baby’s head is visible.

Vacuum extractions are only recommended during the second stage of labor when the cervix has fully dilated and the baby has descended headfirst into the birth canal.

Why Is Vacuum Extraction Used?

Doctors may use vacuum extraction in a variety of circumstances, including:

  • The mother is pushing, but labor is not progressing
  • The mother is getting too tired to continue pushing
  • The mother has a health condition that prevents her from pushing for too long
  • The baby’s heart rate is abnormal, indicating fetal distress

When done properly, a vacuum extraction removes the baby from the birth canal quickly, reducing the risk of complications for the baby or mother. Vacuum extraction can also eliminate the need for a C-section. However, if the doctor cannot safely deliver the baby with the vacuum extraction, a C-section is recommended.

What Causes Vacuum Extraction Injuries?

An improperly performed assisted delivery can result in vacuum extraction complications for both the mother and child.

For example, vacuum extraction delivery complications can cause a baby to suffer stretching or tearing of the nerves in the neck, putting them at risk of spinal cord injury. The mother is also at risk of complications when the increased stretching of the vagina is required for the baby to exit the birth canal.

Since there is a higher risk to the baby and mother during a vacuum extraction than with a natural birth, the procedure should only be done if necessary.

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Risk Factors of Vacuum Extraction Injuries

Since there are several risk factors that can lead to vacuum extraction injuries, there are some instances when an extractor should not be used during a delivery.

There are several risk factors that can lead to vacuum extraction injuries. There are many instances when a vacuum extractor should not be used to assist a delivery.

Circumstances that increase the risk of vacuum extraction delivery complications:

  • The baby’s head is too high up in the birth canal
  • The baby is not in a head-down position in the birth canal (breech)
  • The baby is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis
  • The baby has a medical condition that causes weakened bones or a bleeding disorder
  • The doctor cannot determine the position of the baby’s head
  • The mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant

Effects of Vacuum Extraction Injuries

If vacuum extraction injuries are not appropriately treated in a timely manner, the baby and/or mother may experience short- and long-term health conditions. Some effects are acute and can be visible immediately, whereas others may be chronic and last longer.

The baby and the mother may fully recover or develop ongoing medical conditions depending on the severity of the damage and prompt medical intervention.

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Short-Term Effects for the Mother and Baby

Most vacuum extraction injuries are visible within ten hours after birth.

Short-term effects for the baby:

  • Bleeding under the brain
  • Bleeding under the scalp
  • Bruising and swelling of baby’s head

Short-term effects for the mother:

  • Anemia due to blood loss
  • Blood clots
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal tears leading to infection

Blood clots can be prevented by moving around often and using anti-clotting stockings and/or injections.

Long-Term Effects for the Mother and Baby

There are several long-term effects caused by vacuum extraction complications that can require further medical treatment for both the mother and the baby.

Long-term effects for the baby:

One of the most serious complications to the baby is bleeding under the scalp or inside the skull.

The bleeding is caused by damage to the veins as the suction cup pulls at the tissues of the baby’s head. This can cause hematomas and brain damage, which can be life-threatening. Brain damage may lead to problems with speech and developmental problems depending on the area of the brain affected.

Long-term effects for the mother:

  • Chronic pelvic pain
  • Incontinence
  • Issues with urination, defecation, and sexual intercourse
  • Severe vaginal tears

Treatments for Vacuum Extraction Injuries

Your doctor should examine you and your child for any vacuum extraction delivery complications. Many vacuum extraction injuries can be treated if addressed in a timely manner.

Some of the most common vacuum extraction complications include bruising and vaginal tears.

Bruising and swelling of the baby’s head from the suction cup is common and will disappear on its own. If a baby’s head is bruised from the vacuum extraction, doctors will closely monitor the child for 2 to 3 days to decrease the risk of any long-term complications.

Mothers that experience severe vaginal tears or undergo an episiotomy (surgical incision in the perineum to enlarge the vagina) will require stitching. These stitches will dissolve on their own and do not require removal.

Mothers that experience issues with incontinence may require a catheter to drain the bladder for up to 24 hours. After removal, mothers are instructed to drink lots of water to stay hydrated and combat urination problems.

Vacuum Extractions and Medical Negligence

Patients rely on their doctor’s professional training and experience to decide the best option to assist with their delivery. For this reason, the improper use of vacuum extractors may be considered medical negligence.

Medical malpractice resulting in vacuum extraction delivery complications can be caused by misuse of the device during delivery or failure to provide prompt and appropriate treatment after the procedure.

Doctors should monitor the mother and her newborn for any signs of vacuum extraction delivery complications. Prompt treatment of jaundice, skull fractures, hematomas, and nerve damage can prevent a baby from developing long-term complications. Doctors should also take precautions to prevent any vaginal tears in the mother from becoming infected.

Nurse Beth Carter

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Are You Eligible for Financial Compensation?

Vacuum extraction complications are preventable when medical professionals follow care guidelines correctly and administer prompt treatment to mothers and their babies.

If your doctor did not take the proper precautions during your vacuum extraction, it may be considered medical negligence.

In cases of negligence or malpractice, many families choose to pursue justice against the medical personnel at fault and seek financial compensation with the help of experienced birth injury lawyers. If your child suffered complications as a result of an improper vacuum extraction, you also may be entitled to compensation through a lawsuit.

Get a free case review today to learn how an experienced birth injury attorney may be able to help you and your family.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View 5 Sources
  1. “Forceps or vacuum delivery” NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/ventouse-forceps-delivery/
  2. “Vacuum extraction” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vacuum-extraction/about/pac-20395232
  3. Vacuum-Assisted delivery: Care instructions. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Health/aftercareinformation/pages/conditions.aspx?hwid=abn3191
  4. “Vacuum-Assisted Vaginal Delivery” Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672989/
  5. “What moms should know about forcep and vacuum deliveries” The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Retrieved from https://utswmed.org/medblog/forceps-vacuum-delivery/
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