Vacuum extraction as a procedure to assist childbirth has become more common than the use of forceps in recent years for difficult or prolonged deliveries. Vacuum extractions or forceps are still used in about 5% of births, and they are the chosen procedure when a prolonged delivery is increasing the risk of injury or death to the mother or the baby.
If the doctor is trained in vacuum extraction, the procedure can be preferable to the risks of a C-section, which include complications from hemorrhaging and infection. However, there are also significant risks of birth injury in the choice of vacuum extraction, including internal bleeding, scalp wounds and skull fractures.
When should a doctor not perform a vacuum extraction?
Vacuum extraction occurs when the obstetrician places a cup attached to the vacuum pump on the baby’s head, gently pulling the baby through the birth canal while the mother pushes until the baby’s head emerges. When performed under the right conditions, it can result in an injury-free birth.
A medical practitioner should not perform a vacuum extraction under the following circumstances:
- The mother is not in the second stage of labor and fully dilated
- The mother is at less than 34 weeks
- The baby is either not yet head-down in the birth canal or its head is too high up in the birth canal, or the doctor cannot determine the position of the baby’s head
- The baby’s size is too big to fit in the mother’s pelvis
- The baby has a medical condition
Because of the risk factors of vacuum extraction, this procedure should only be done if the baby’s heartbeat has become erratic during a long labor, or if the mother is at full dilation but is either too exhausted or has a health condition that is putting her at risk.
What injuries can occur from vacuum extraction?
Bleeding under the scalp or in the brain and stretching to the nerves in the neck from vacuum extraction can cause long-term damage to the baby, such as cerebral palsy, Erb’s palsy or kernicterus. For the mother, severe tears in the pelvic wall can lead to infection, incontinence and other related conditions.
An improperly performed or unnecessary vacuum extraction endangers the lives of the mother and baby, and this can be grounds for a medical negligence suit. A family that is facing the tragic consequences of preventable medical errors in the Portland area can find legal assistance in getting questions answered and seeking financial restitution.