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Vacuum extractor injuries may result when doctors use this device to assist labor and delivery. There are important reasons why a doctor may choose to use this procedure, but there are also risks. Vacuum extraction can cause brain damage, which can lead to a variety of disabilities, including cerebral palsy.
How Does Vacuum Extraction Work?
This procedure uses a vacuum and suction to guide the baby out of the birth canal:
- To use vacuum extraction, a cup is attached to the baby’s head.
- A vacuum pump then produces suction, and the doctor uses a handle on the device to pull the baby out.
- The doctor typically combines the forces of the mother’s contraction with the pulling motion of the vacuum.
Why Do Doctors Use Vacuum Extractors?
Vacuum extraction is used to aid childbirth, and a doctor may choose to use it for several reasons. Generally, suction is used when labor isn’t progressing, or there is an urgent need to deliver the baby, either for the health of the mom or the child.
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When appropriately performed, vacuum extraction is less risky than a cesarean section. Some of the specific reasons this procedure may be used include:
- The mother has a health issue. For instance, if the mother has a heart condition and the doctor is concerned that she is putting too much stress on her heart by pushing. Even if she does not have a specific health problem, when the mother is exhausted from pushing, vacuum extraction can help.
- The baby’s heartbeat is abnormal. If the doctor notices something unusual in the baby’s heartbeat, it may be important to deliver immediately. In that case, vacuum extraction can be used to speed up the process.
- Labor isn’t progressing. If labor is not progressing, despite the mother pushing, she may need assistance. This point is typically reached after two to three hours of pushing and no progression for first delivery and one to two hours with no progression for a woman who has given birth previously.
Reasons Not to Use Vacuum Extraction
Vacuum extraction can be safe, but there are times and situations in which it is generally not recommended:
- The cup has to be attached to the baby’s head, so if the head cannot be found, this method won’t work.
- If the head is not far enough down in the birth canal, vacuum extraction shouldn’t be applied either.
- It should also not be used if the mother is less than 34 weeks along in her pregnancy.
- If the baby has a known condition that weakens the bones or that may cause bleeding, vacuum extraction is too risky. It may cause dangerous bleeding or broken bones in the baby.
- Another reason to not use vacuum extraction and perform a cesarean section delivery as an alternative is if the size of the baby is a concern. The baby may be too large to fit through the birth canal.
The Risks of Using Vacuum Extraction
Using suction from a vacuum extractor to help guide the baby from the birth canal may help prevent the need for a cesarean section and get the baby delivered sooner to avoid certain health problems. Still, it can also pose risks of its own. The risks to the mother include:
- Tears and damage to the tissue in the lower genital tract
- Pain after labor and delivery
- Blood loss and subsequent anemia
- Muscle and ligament weakness around the pelvic organs
- Urinary or fecal incontinence, which may be temporary or permanent
Vacuum extraction can cause complications in the baby too:
- Bleeding and wounds on the scalp
- Stretching of the nerves along the neck, which can cause Erb’s palsy or a brachial plexus injury
- Bleeding under the skin or in the brain
- Bleeding in the eyes
- A skull fracture
- Neonatal jaundice
- Brain damage, which may lead to permanent disability
Examples of Vacuum Extraction Birth Injuries
In a case from 2014, a jury awarded a family $55 million after their baby suffered irreversible damage during delivery due to decisions made by the delivering doctor. The baby was showing signs of fetal distress, the parents claimed, but the doctor did not notice them until the baby had already been deprived of oxygen.
The mother then struggled to deliver the baby, who was large, and the doctor used vacuum extraction instead of a cesarean section to assist the delivery. This, the parents claimed, caused further oxygen deprivation. The baby developed cerebral palsy as a result of brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen.
In another case, a 12-year-old boy was awarded $4 million for the permanent brain damage he suffered after his doctor used a vacuum extractor during his delivery. The mother and her attorneys found several faults with the doctor’s decisions, including a failure to order a cesarean section because of her small pelvis. 
The doctor used vacuum extraction instead, without the mother’s permission, and when the fetus’s location was unclear. As a result, the device was not placed on the baby correctly. He ended up with brain damage and needs support for the rest of his life.
If your child suffered brain damage or some other type of birth injury as a result of the use of vacuum extraction during your delivery, your doctor might be guilty of malpractice. A birth injury lawyer can help you determine if you have a case and if your doctor is to blame.
Your child may need care and support into adulthood, which can be expensive. You may be entitled to compensation either through a settlement or a jury award in a trial.
- Vacuum Extraction. (2018, September 15). Mayo Clinic - Mayo Clinic.
Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vacuum-extraction/basics/definition/prc-20020448
- Vacuum-Assisted Vaginal Delivery. (n.d.). PubMed Central (PMC).
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2672989/
- Jury Awards Family $55 Million for Boy's Injuries at Birth at St. Luke's University Hospital. (2013, December 24). Lehighvalleylive.
Retrieved from: http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/lehigh-county/index.ssf/2013/12/lehigh_county_jury_awards_fami.html
- Zubeck, P. (2017, August 2). Memorial Hospital, Doctor Sued After Infant Delivery Results in Brain Damage. Colorado Springs Independent.
Retrieved from: https://www.csindy.com/coloradosprings/memorial-hospital-doctor-sued-after-infant-delivery-results-in-brain-damage/Content?oid=6579866