Vacuum Extraction Complications

Fact-Checked and Medically Reviewed by:
Katie Lavender, RN Registered Nurse
Quick Answer

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

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What Is Vacuum Extraction?

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

Vacuum extraction is a procedure used to assist a complicated or prolonged delivery. Obstetricians may choose to use vacuum extraction if they feel delivery complications could threaten the safety of the mother or baby.

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

Typically, the doctor will only gently pull while the mother pushes, so they work together with her contractions to help guide the baby through the birth canal.

Did you know?

Recent data shows that vacuum extraction was performed in 2.5% of U.S. births in 2021.

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.

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.

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.

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Reasons for Vacuum Delivery

When performed correctly, a vacuum extraction quickly removes the baby from the birth canal, reducing the risk of complications for the mother and their child.

Vacuum extraction may be needed when:
  • The baby’s heart rate is abnormal, indicating fetal distress.
  • The mother has a health condition that prevents them from pushing for too long.
  • The mother is pushing, but the baby is not descending.
  • The mother is too tired to continue pushing.

In some cases, vacuum extraction eliminates the need for a cesarean section (C-section). However, a C-section is recommended if the doctor cannot safely deliver the baby with vacuum extraction.

What Causes Vacuum Extraction Complications?

An improperly performed assisted delivery is one of the top causes of vacuum extraction complications. The procedure should only be used if necessary since there is a higher risk to the baby and mother with a vacuum delivery than with natural birth.

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

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.

Vacuum Delivery Complications Video Thumbnail

Learn about the risks and complications of vacuum extraction during childbirth and what steps you can take if your baby was harmed.

Duration: 1 min 22 sec

Assistive devices like vacuum extractors can be necessary during a difficult delivery. However, even though most vacuum extractions are successful, this procedure can pose risks to both the mother and the child.

While vacuum extraction may be required in some vaginal deliveries, it should only be performed when there is a need to remove the baby from the birth canal quickly.

Serious complications can arise from vacuum deliveries, including brain damage, Erb’s palsy, skull fractures, and cephalohematomas. These complications can lead to developmental delays and permanent disability.

Sometimes, these complications are caused by doctors who misuse the vacuum device during delivery or fail to provide prompt and appropriate treatment after the procedure. These preventable medical mistakes are considered medical malpractice.

If your child suffered vacuum delivery complications due to medical negligence, you may be entitled to financial compensation. It’s important to explore your options and seek justice for any harm caused.

The Birth Injury Justice Center can help you connect with experienced birth injury lawyers and pursue financial assistance for medical negligence. Take action right now and protect your rights and your child’s future.

Some vacuum extraction complications cannot be avoided. However, they are often the result of improper use of the delivery tool, which can mean medical negligence occurred.

If you think your baby’s vacuum-assisted delivery complications could have been prevented, you probably have questions. One of our registered nurses can help. Connect with a labor and delivery nurse now in confidence.

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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 less 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 promptly can lead to various medical issues. Some vacuum extraction complications are minor and resolve immediately, but others may be more severe and last longer.

Short-Term Effects of Vacuum Delivery Complications

According to Cleveland Clinic, most vacuum extraction complications appear in the first 10 hours after birth.

Here are some of the short-term effects of vacuum delivery complications.

Effects on baby:
Effects on mother:
  • Difficulty urinating or incontinence (lack of control with urinating)
  • Tailbone injury and pelvic pain
  • Postpartum bleeding
  • Vaginal tears

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

Long-Term Effects of Vacuum Delivery Complications

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

One of the most dangerous complications to the baby is bleeding in 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, causing blood to pool under the scalp. This can add pressure to certain spaces of the brain, causing increased pressure on the brain’s nerves.

Did you know?

Newborn hematomas occur in about 10% of assisted deliveries.

The bleeding from a hematoma can also put pressure on the brain and its nerves, which can result in brain damage.

The brain and its nerves are the command center for the body, so pressure and damage to these areas can cause speech and developmental delays depending on what part of the brain is affected and the extent of the injury.

Other long-term effects for the baby may include:

It can be months or even years before the effects of vacuum delivery complications become noticeable. In particular, developmental delays may take longer to detect since the brain does not fully develop until the mid-to-late 20s.

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

Take our free milestones quiz now to see if your child is on track.


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Treatment for Vacuum Extraction Complications

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

A baby's head is measured just above the eyebrows and ears with a measuring tape.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 who 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.

Nurse's Note:

After a difficult birth, some mothers may need a short-term catheter if they can’t urinate due to swelling. If urination isn’t possible within 6 hours of removing the catheter, it may be reinserted. Frequent catheter use raises infection risk.

Vacuum Delivery Complications and Medical Malpractice

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

What is vacuum extraction malpractice?
Vacuum extraction malpractice happens when a delivery team member’s error or failure to act causes the mother or baby to suffer a birth injury.

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.

Doctors should monitor the mother and newborn for any signs of vacuum extraction complications. Prompt treatment of jaundice, skull fractures, hematomas, and nerve damage can prevent a baby from developing serious health conditions.

When a baby suffers long-term complications from vacuum delivery, many families choose to pursue justice against negligent medical staff with the help of an experienced birth injury lawyer.

We’ve partnered with experienced birth injury lawyers who have helped families recover $862 million for preventable birth injuries — and they’re ready to help yours too.

Find Out 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 proper precautions during your vacuum extraction.

If your child suffered complications from a vacuum extraction, you may be able to receive 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

What is vacuum extraction?

Vacuum extraction (also called a ventouse) is an assistive delivery method used during childbirth to guide a baby through the birth canal. It is performed during the second stage of labor, when the mother is pushing the baby out.

This method works in tandem with the mother’s pushing efforts rather than pulling the baby out directly.

What are the potential complications of vacuum extraction?

Examples of vacuum-assisted delivery complications include scalp injuries such as bruising or swelling, as well as skull fractures.

In some cases, a condition called intracranial hemorrhage, which is bleeding inside the skull, can occur. This condition is considered severe. Any time a baby’s brain is harmed, there is a risk for brain damage.

What is the most serious complication of vacuum extraction?

According to Cleveland Clinic, the most serious vacuum extraction complications include skull fractures and intracranial hemorrhage, which can lead to brain damage. Additionally, subgaleal hemorrhage (bleeding between the scalp and skull) can lead to death if left untreated.

Can vacuum delivery cause brain damage?

Yes, vacuum extraction complications can cause brain damage. If the vacuum suction device isn’t placed on the baby’s head correctly or too much pressure is applied, it can seriously damage a newborn baby’s 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). In these situations, the head is delivered, but the shoulders are stuck, creating pressure on the baby and a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Some vacuum extraction can cause brain bleeds, which can put 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.

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

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 (return 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 baby.

Birth Injury Support Team
Reviewed by:Katie Lavender, RN

Registered Nurse

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Katie Lavender has over 8 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in postpartum mother/baby care. With hands-on experience in Labor and Delivery and a role as a Community Educator for newborn care, Katie is a staunch advocate for patient rights and education. As a Medical Reviewer, she is committed to ensuring accurate and trustworthy patient information.

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 Sources
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  2. Ali, U. A., & Norwitz, E. R. (Winter 2009). Vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery. Reviews in obstetrics & gynecology. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  3. Caughey, A. B., et al. (November 2005). Forceps compared with vacuum: Rates of neonatal and maternal morbidity. Obstetrics and gynecology. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2021, December 28). Cephalohematoma birth injury: Causes and complications. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  5. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, January 28). Vacuum extraction delivery: What to expect & side effects. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  6. Lo, J. Y. (2022, April 19). What moms should know about forceps and vacuum deliveries: Your pregnancy matters. UT Southwestern Medical Center. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  7. Michas, F. (2023, March 24). Forceps or vacuum extraction births U.S. 1990-2021. Statista. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  8. Tonismae, T., et al. (2022, November 28). Vacuum extraction – statpearls – NCBI bookshelf. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from
  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). The Teen Brain: 7 things to know. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved November 15, 2023, from,prioritizing%2C%20and%20making%20good%20decisions
Nurse Beth Carter

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