Vacuum Extraction Complications

Quick Answer

Even though most vacuum extractions are successful, the procedure can put the mother and the child at risk of injury. Vacuum delivery should only be performed if needed, as it may cause serious complications like skull fractures and cephalohematomas. Learn more about vacuum delivery complications and how to pursue financial assistance for medical negligence.

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What Is Vacuum Extraction?

Vacuum extraction is a procedure used to assist a complicated or prolonged delivery that threatens the safety of the mother or baby. Delivery assistance using a vacuum extractor or forceps occurs in over 5% of births in the United States.

A vacuum extraction device with a suction cup attached to the top of a baby's head
Example of a vacuum extraction device

The vacuum extraction device includes a soft cup (also called a ventouse) that is firmly attached to the baby’s head and a vacuum pump to create suction.

Typically, the mother will push while the doctor guides 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 is fully dilated and the baby has descended headfirst into the birth canal.

This is partly because vacuum extraction poses risk to both the mother and the baby.

If doctors fail to safely perform a vacuum extraction delivery, babies can suffer from a wide range of health problems, including brain bleeds, cerebral palsy, and Erb’s palsy. Mothers can also be seriously injured.

When Is a Vacuum Delivery Needed?

When done properly, a vacuum extraction removes the baby from the birth canal quickly, reducing the risk of complications for the mother and baby.

Vacuum extraction may be needed when:

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

Vacuum extraction can also eliminate the need for a cesarean section (C-section). However, if the doctor cannot safely deliver the baby with the vacuum extraction, a C-section is recommended.

What Causes Vacuum Delivery Complications?

An improperly performed assisted delivery can cause vacuum delivery complications for both the mother and child. Since there is a higher risk to the baby and mother with a vacuum delivery than with a natural birth, the procedure should only be done if necessary.

Specifically, the mother is at risk of vacuum extraction complications like tearing and lacerations (cuts) because this type of delivery requires significant vaginal stretching in order for the baby to exit the birth canal.

In 1998, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public health advisory to health care providers that vacuum-assisted delivery “may cause serious or fatal complications.”

The baby can suffer stretching or tearing of the nerves in their neck, putting them at risk of a spinal cord injury. Also, if too much suction is used during the vacuum extraction, it can injure the baby’s head and scalp.

It can take months or even years after birth to notice the effects of vacuum delivery complications. In particular, developmental delays may take longer to detect since most children’s brains aren’t fully developed until age 5.

Because of this, it’s important to monitor your child for symptoms of common birth injuries and ensure they’re hitting appropriate developmental goals.

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Taking note of your child’s physical, social, and emotional skills can help you determine if they potentially suffered from an injury at birth. An early diagnosis can help your child get the treatment they need as soon as possible.

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Risk Factors for Vacuum Delivery Complications

There are specific risk factors that can lead to vacuum extraction injuries. Doctors and other medical providers must consider these risks when determining whether a vacuum delivery is appropriate.

The risk of vacuum extraction delivery complications is higher when:

  • The baby has a bone or bleeding disorder.
  • The baby’s head has not moved past the middle of the birth canal.
  • The baby is too large to fit through the mother’s pelvis.
  • The doctor cannot determine the position of the baby’s head.
  • The mother is fewer than 34 weeks pregnant.

If any of these risk factors apply, a vacuum extractor should not be used to assist a vaginal birth.

Effects of Vacuum Extraction Complications

Vacuum extraction injuries that aren’t treated in a timely manner can lead to various medical issues.

Some vacuum extraction complications are minor and resolve themselves immediately, but others may be more severe and last longer.

Newborn cephalohematomas occur in about 15% of vacuum-assisted deliveries.

You may qualify for financial assistance if you or your child experienced complications from a vacuum-assisted delivery. Get a free case review now for more details.

Was Your Child Injured During Birth?

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Short-Term Effects

Most vacuum extraction complications arise in the first 10 hours after birth, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Effects on baby:
Effects on mother:
  • Difficulty urinating or incontinence
  • Pelvic pain
  • Postpartum bleeding
  • Vaginal tears

Most of these short-term vacuum delivery complications go away in a few days.

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects caused by vacuum extraction complications can be more serious and require ongoing medical treatment.

Newborn lying in an incubator in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)

One of the most dangerous complications to the baby is bleeding within the brain, also known as an intraventricular hematoma.

This can happen when the vacuum cup pulls at the tissues of the baby’s head and ruptures fragile blood vessels.

The bleeding from a hematoma can also put pressure on the brain and result in brain damage. This may lead to speech and developmental delays depending on what part of the brain is affected.

Other long-term effects for the baby may include:

Financial assistance may be available for families affected by long-term vacuum extraction complications. Contact our team at (855) 910-9709 right now to learn more.

Treatment for Vacuum Extraction Complications

Doctors should examine mothers and their babies right away for any vacuum extraction complications. Many vacuum extraction injuries can be treated if addressed soon after delivery.

Bruising and swelling of the baby’s head from the suction cup is common and will usually heal without treatment. If a baby’s head is bruised from the vacuum extraction, doctors will closely monitor the child for 2-3 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 need to be removed.

Mothers who experience incontinence may require a catheter to drain their bladder for up to 24 hours. After the catheter is removed, they will be instructed to drink lots of water to stay hydrated and prevent urination problems.

Vacuum Delivery Complications and Medical Negligence

Because of their professional experience and training, doctors are responsible for determining the best option to assist with a vaginal delivery. For this reason, the improper use of vacuum extractors may be considered medical negligence.

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

Doctor sitting at his desk with his held held down in his handsDoctors should monitor the mother and her newborn for any signs of vacuum extraction 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.

Were you or your child injured from a vacuum delivery? We can help — chat with a nurse for free right now.

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See If You’re Eligible for Financial Compensation

Vacuum extraction complications are preventable when medical professionals follow care guidelines correctly and provide prompt treatment to mothers and their babies. You may have a case for medical negligence if your doctor did not take the p roper precautions during your vacuum extraction.

Many families choose to pursue justice against negligent medical staff with the help of experienced birth injury lawyers.

If your child suffered complications from an improper vacuum extraction, you may be entitled to compensation through a birth injury lawsuit.

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

Vacuum Extraction Complications FAQs

Can vacuum delivery cause brain damage?

Yes, vacuum extraction complications can lead to brain damage. If the vacuum suction isn’t placed on the baby’s head correctly or too much pressure is applied, it can seriously damage their brain.

Brain damage can also occur from lack of oxygen due to a vacuum-related injury like shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulder gets lodged behind the mother’s pubic bone).

Sometimes, vacuum extraction can cause brain bleeds, which can put too much pressure on the brain and damage it.

How long does it take to heal from a vacuum delivery?

Most women recover from a vacuum delivery within 6 weeks if there are no complications. During this time, they may need to wear a pad to deal with vaginal bleeding or spotting.

Babies with bruises or swelling from vacuum extraction usually take a few weeks to heal. In the meantime, it’s important to monitor the baby’s head while it heals and attend regular follow-up appointments.

How long does it take for a baby's head to round after vacuum extraction?

The suction cup used in vacuum extraction can cause a baby’s head to swell into a cone shape. However, the baby’s head should start to round (go back to its normal shape) 2-3 days after birth.

Which is better: vacuum or forceps?

Both vacuum extraction and forceps delivery have advantages and disadvantages. Some studies have shown that rates of shoulder dystocia and newborn cephalohematoma are lower in babies delivered by vacuum extraction versus forceps.

On the other hand, these studies also found that the risk of maternal complications — especially vaginal tears — is higher with the use of forceps.

Doctors are responsible for choosing the assistive device that is best for the mother and her baby.

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 7 Sources
  1. Abbas, R.A., Qadi, Y.H., Bukhari, R., & Shams, T. Maternal and neonatal complications resulting from vacuum-assisted and normal vaginal deliveries. Cureus. 2021 May 11;13(5):e14962. doi: 10.7759/cureus.14962. PMID: 34123659; PMCID: PMC8191856. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8191856/
  2. Ali, U.A. & Norwitz, E.R. Vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Winter;2(1):5-17. PMID: 19399290; PMCID: PMC2672989. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672989/
  3. Caughey, A.B., Sandberg, P.L., Zlatnik, M.G., Thiet, M.P., Parer, J.T., & Laros, R.K. Jr. Forceps compared with vacuum: rates of neonatal and maternal morbidity. Obstet Gynecol. 2005 Nov;106(5 Pt 1):908-12. doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000182616.39503.b2. PMID: 16260505.
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, January 28). Vacuum extraction delivery. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/22305-vacuum-extraction-delivery
  5. Statista. (February 2022). Births delivered by forceps or vacuum extraction in the U.S. 1990-2020. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/276067/us-births-delivered-by-forceps-or-vacuum-extraction/
  6. Tonismae, T., Canela, C.D., & Gossman, W. Vacuum extraction. [Updated 2022 Jul 23]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459234/
  7. University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. (2022, April 19). What moms should know about forcep and vacuum deliveries. Retrieved September 28, 2022, from https://utswmed.org/medblog/forceps-vacuum-delivery/
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