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Forceps and Vacuum Injuries Explained

Wagner Reese

Sometimes, when a mother is giving birth vaginally, there may be complications that require the use of assistive devices. In some cases, assistive methods may include forceps or vacuum extraction to help with the delivery of the baby.

Unfortunately, there are still risks when using an assistive method during childbirth. For the first few months of life, a baby’s skull is very soft as the bone plates have not yet fully fused together. A baby’s scalp can also sustain damage such as bruising and even disfigurement due to not being as strong as that of an adult. As a result, injuries can occur when methods such as forceps or vacuum extraction are used to help with vaginal deliveries.

Injuries Resulting from Forceps Delivery

Forceps have been used to assist in births for hundreds of years. They are a set of curved tongs made of metal that are used to grasp either side of a baby’s head so that the doctor can gently pull the baby through the mother’s birth canal.

Injuries can occur to the infant when forceps are used to assist delivery. The most common are abrasions or bruising to the scalp. Normally, these injuries are only cosmetic and can clear up in days or weeks following the birth. However, in severe cases, the injuries can be disfiguring and permanent. If the forceps apply too much pressure to the baby’s skull, there may be noticeable indentations. In some cases, those can also disappear in a few weeks.

One of the most serious types of injuries a baby can suffer due to a forceps delivery is bleeding or swelling inside the baby’s skull, which can result in brain injury to the baby. Skull fractures, damage to the baby’s facial nerves, and trauma to the baby’s face or eyes can also occur.

Injuries Resulting from Vacuum Extraction

Two types of vacuum extraction are commonly used: the metal cup and soft cup methods. While the metal cup method tends to be more reliable in assisting with vaginal deliveries, they can cause more trauma to a baby’s scalp. The soft cup method is more gentle but has a higher risk of detaching during vacuum extraction.

Generally, the area where the cup attaches to the baby’s scalp can result in bruising and disfigurement if the level of pressure and suction are not monitored carefully. The cup’s insertion can also cause an injury to the mother if the doctor is careless.

There are even more serious risks that can arise as a result of vacuum extraction during vaginal delivery. There is a higher risk of the infant experiencing hemorrhaging of the scalp due to swelling of the head after vacuum extraction assisted delivery. This is also known as Subgaleal hemorrhaging. A baby who has such injuries should immediately receive medical attention as the injury can result in seizures, anemia, shock and even death.

A baby can also suffer retinal injuries during vacuum extraction due to excess pressure. The eyes may have a red ring around them or even minute amounts of blood, which may clear up on its own. However, in severe cases, vision problems can occur.

Use of a vacuum can also cause stretching of the nerves along the infant’s neck, which can cause permanent nerve injury, including Erb’s palsy or brachial plexus injury. These conditions can result in permanent disability for the child.

Proper Prevention of Birth Injury

For mothers undergoing a vaginal birth, your doctor should always explain if forceps or vacuum extraction during delivery becomes necessary, the risks associated with each method, and the alternatives available. Clinicians should always strive to limit the risk of injury to the baby and mother.

If you are located in Indiana and recently gave birth and your child suffered forceps or vacuum extraction injuries, call an experienced Indiana medical malpractice attorney. A medical malpractice case can recover compensation for your baby’s medical expenses and ongoing care. Contact Wagner Reese to discuss options to protect your rights and those of your child.


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