Vacuum Extraction Complications Causes

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

Vacuum-assisted delivery is generally avoided due to the risk of harm to the mother and child. However, the procedure is sometimes the best option, especially for labor that stalls in the second stage. Vacuum extractions are usually safe and successful. However, in some cases, serious complications occur. Learn more about vacuum extraction complications causes and what to do if you suspect medical malpractice.

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What Is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery?

A doctor's hands are shown cradling a newborn's head.Vacuum-assisted delivery is a type of operative vaginal delivery used for labor that is stalled in the second stage (when the cervix is fully dilated and ready for childbirth.) Doctors perform the procedure to help get the baby through the birth canal.

A vacuum extractor has a vacuum cup (or suction cup) attached to a mechanical vacuum pump. Together, these components of the vacuum device use suction and traction on the baby’s head to help pull them out while the mother actively pushes.

“Today, assisted vaginal birth happens in about 3 in 100 vaginal deliveries in the United States.”

—American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)

The procedure is generally not recommended due to the possibility of complications. Vacuum extraction complications causes can vary depending on the situation.

Talk to one of our labor and delivery nurses in confidence if you think complications from a vacuum extraction delivery could have been avoided.

Our registered nurses have decades of combined experience in labor and delivery settings and are here to help.

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Why Is a Vacuum Extractor Used?

Sometimes, even when a mother is actively trying to push, childbirth stalls. When this continues for hours in the second stage of labor, the health of the mother and baby can become at risk.

During labor and delivery, health care providers‌ will monitor the mother’s and baby’s heart rates and other vitals. Assisted delivery may be recommended if there are signs of fetal distress or other life-threatening issues.

When Is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Needed?

Specific conditions must be met before a vacuum-assisted delivery can be performed.

Here are some health concerns for when vacuum extraction delivery may be needed:
  • Abnormal heartbeat is detected in the baby
  • Baby’s head has stopped moving down the birth canal
  • Exhaustion prevents the mother from pushing any more
  • Health condition that makes it more dangerous for the mother to push (like heart disease)
  • Labor that seems to stall in the second stage

Vacuum Extraction vs. Forceps Delivery

In recent years, vacuum extraction and forceps delivery rates have decreased, and cesarean section (C-section) delivery rates have increased. This may be because doctors cannot always control what causes vacuum extraction complications or complications from forceps deliveries.

“The type of delivery that is done depends on many factors, including the experience of your obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) and your individual situation.”

—Cleveland Clinic

While all three procedures are generally safe when performed correctly, vacuum extraction complications, forceps delivery complications, and C-section complications do occur. Therefore, medical professionals‌ generally recommend unassisted vaginal birth whenever possible.

What Causes Vacuum Extraction Complications?

Unfortunately, vacuum extraction complications causes are not always detected until the procedure is underway. This makes it difficult to reverse course or prevent harm.

Did You Know?

Complications from vacuum extraction are more likely to occur when the procedure has been underway for 20 minutes or more or when the soft cup of the vacuum device has repeatedly come off the baby’s head.

Knowing the different vacuum extraction complications causes can help your medical team avoid problems with your delivery and harming you and your newborn.

Risk Factors for Vacuum Extraction Complications

While it is not always possible to predict vacuum extraction complications causes, certain risk factors make them more likely to occur.

Vacuum extraction complications are more likely in babies who are:

  • Not in a headfirst position
  • Not low enough in the birth canal
  • Premature (mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant)
  • Too large to fit through the birth canal

Sometimes, weak bones or bleeding disorders in babies may be what causes vacuum extraction complications.

Additionally, one of the top vacuum extraction complications causes is when doctors can’t tell exactly where a baby’s head is located. Recommended medical advice in these situations should be to avoid attempting the the vacuum procedure altogether.

Preventing Vacuum Extraction Complications Causes

Because doctors can’t always prevent vacuum extraction complications causes, they usually avoid the procedure. However, when medical professionals do attempt vacuum extraction, there are several steps they should take to help with labor and delivery.

Before recommending vacuum extraction, your obstetrics team can:

  • Give you oxygen through a mask
  • Provide intravenous (IV) fluids through your arm
  • Reposition you to help make delivery faster

Complications from vacuum extraction deliveries can cause several types of birth injuries. Therefore, they should only be performed when there are no other options.

Can a Vacuum Extractor Cause Birth Injuries?

In addition to causing harm to mothers, such as vaginal tears, postpartum bleeding, and lack of bladder control, vacuum extractors can also harm newborns. The short- and long-term side effects vary and depend on specific vacuum extraction complications causes.

Complications from vacuum-assisted deliveries include:

Birth injuries are not always detected immediately and sometimes covered up by medical professionals.

Take our free milestones quiz now if you suspect your baby could have been injured by a vacuum-assisted delivery.


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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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24 months + old child

Vacuum Extraction Complications and Medical Malpractice

The reality is that many things can happen during childbirth, no matter how careful and prepared families are. Some situations cannot be avoided or predicted.

There are times when assisted vaginal delivery procedures, such as vacuum extraction, are the best-recommended course of action to keep the mother and baby safe. However, vacuum extraction should only be attempted as a last resort and performed with informed consent.

When vacuum extraction complications causes are the result of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to financial compensation.

Did you know?

In 2022, a jury awarded $97.4 million to an Iowa family after forceps and vacuum extraction crushed their son’s skull, causing a type of brain injury called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, skull fracture, and cerebral palsy. This is the largest amount awarded in Iowa state history for a medical malpractice case.

Get Help for a Birth Injury Caused by Vacuum Extraction

Obstetricians and labor and delivery staff members are specially trained to appropriately respond to all situations in the delivery room. When this does not happen, families pay dearly.

Thankfully, a birth injury lawyer may be able to help get you the compensation you need to create a stable future for your child.

Get a free case review from our team to find out if we can help. You don’t have to face your child’s birth injury alone.

Vacuum Extraction Complications Causes FAQs

What are the potential complications of vacuum extraction?

Potential complications from vacuum-assisted delivery include skull fractures, brain bleeds, shoulder dystocia (infant shoulder is stuck during delivery), and even lifelong conditions like cerebral palsy.

Vacuum extraction complications causes vary, but the outcome is the same: harm to the newborn baby or mother.

What is the most serious complication of vacuum extraction?

The most serious complication of vacuum extraction is an injury that causes lifelong harm to a newborn. Skull fractures that lead to brain damage can create a lasting impact, leading to unforeseen medical expenses and care that no family could have anticipated.

While any type of harm to your newborn is serious, an injury that changes the course of their life can be considered the most severe. Request a free consultation now to see if you have legal options.

Can vacuum delivery cause brain damage?

Yes, sometimes vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery can lead to vacuum extraction injuries, including skull fractures that cause brain damage. If the suction cups are not properly placed on the baby’s head, or too much pressure is applied, the delicate skull and undeveloped brain of a newborn can easily be injured.

Can vacuum delivery cause learning disabilities?

Yes, it’s possible that vacuum extraction complications can have a lifelong impact on your child and lead to future learning disabilities. While there is currently no solid understanding of the specific causes of learning disabilities, some studies suggest that birth injuries may play a role.

This may be especially true in cases of prolonged labor, which is sometimes what causes vacuum extraction complications.

What are the risk factors of vacuum delivery?

The risk factors of vacuum delivery complications include bone weakness or bleeding disorders in the baby, their location in the birth canal, and when they are not positioned headfirst.

If any of these risk factors are present, the delivery team must take extra precautions when considering vacuum-assisted delivery. Failure to do so is one of the top vacuum extraction complications causes.

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
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2022, May 1). Assisted vaginal delivery. Retrieved June 30, 2024, from
  2. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Vacuum extraction delivery: What to expect & side effects. Retrieved June 30, 2024, from
  3. La Russa, R., et al. (2022). Diagnostic assessment of traumatic brain injury by vacuum extraction in newborns: Overview on forensic perspectives and proposal of operating procedures. Frontiers in Bioscience (Landmark Edition), 27(3), 79. Retrieved June 30, 2024, from
  4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023, February 18). Know the signs of learning disorders in kids. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 30, 2024, from
  5. Van de Riet, E., & Reevie, C. (2022, March 24). Family awarded $97.4 million for botched birth that left child with severe brain damage. KCRG. Retrieved June 30, 2024, from
Nurse Beth Carter

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