The Risk of Vacuum and Forceps Assisted DeliveryWhen a mother comes to the end of a long and difficult labor, sometimes a doctor may decide to use vacuum extraction or forceps to help the process along. It can be especially helpful to safely speed along the delivery process if the mother or the baby is in distress. While most assisted deliveries are performed safely with no injury, there are significant risks involved, and your healthcare provider should make sure you are aware of the risks and proceed accordingly.
How do Vacuums and Forceps Work?
When a medical provider has determined that the baby is low enough in the birth canal to use an assisted delivery method, they will then decide whether to use vacuum extraction or forceps. With vacuum extraction, the provider will place a vacuum cup on the top of the baby’s head and apply suction so that the cup doesn’t fall off. During the next contraction, the provider asks the mother to push and then pulls the baby using the vacuum cup. Once the head of the baby has been delivered, the doctor removes the vacuum cup.
In a forceps delivery, the medical provider applies an instrument shaped like a pair of salad tongs to the sides of the baby’s head. During the next contraction, the provider uses the forceps to guide the baby’s head through the birth canal while the mother is pushing.
What are the Risks of a Vacuum Extraction Delivery?
According to a 2009 study, there is a 5% risk of complications from vacuum-assisted deliveries. Complications that could arise include:

  • Scalp lacerations
  • Cephalohematoma—bleeding in the space under the fibrous portion of the skull bone. Cephalohematoma usually clears up in a couple of weeks, but it can sometimes require surgery and extensive treatment.
  • Subgaleal hematoma—more serious bleeding that occurs below the scalp. A significant amount of blood can be lost, and subgaleal hematoma can be a life-threatening condition.
  • Intracranial hemorrhage—bleeding under the skull. Although rare, this complication can lead to severe brain injury.
  • Skull fracture—delivery could result in hairline or depression fractures to the skull.

What are the Risks of a Forceps Assisted Delivery?
Forceps deliveries pose risks both to the mother and the baby. The risk to the mother include:

  • Perineum pain
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Incontinence
  • Pelvic muscle weakness
  • Bladder injury
  • Uterine rupture

Risks to the baby include:

  • Facial injuries—due to the pressure of the forceps
  • Facial palsy—weakness in the facial muscles
  • Eye trauma
  • Skull fracture—depressed and hairline
  • Intracranial hemorrhaging—can lead to permanent brain injury
  • Seizures

Medical Provider’s Duty
Assisted deliveries should only be performed if they are necessary and with the mother’s informed consent. Medical providers have a duty to use vacuums and forceps properly and only when appropriate. A failure to do so can lead to serious and devastating injuries.
Contact an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
If you or your baby were injured during an assisted delivery, you should have an experienced medical malpractice attorney evaluate your case. At Bonina & Bonina, P.C., we have over 50 years of experience helping New Yorkers affected by birth injuries. Contact us online or call us at 1-888-MEDLAW1 to schedule your free consultation. Home and hospital visits are available. Se habla español