Vacuum-assisted Birth: Uses and Risks

Vacuum-assisted Birth: Uses and Risks

Last update: 15 July, 2018

Vacuum-assisted birth helps the baby travel through the birth canal when it is unable to do so naturally. This type of birthing process has certain particularities.

In the article below, we’ll explain in detail the possible risks and the cases in which vacuum-assisted birth is necessary.

What exactly is vacuum-assisted birth?

In some cases, a baby can get stuck in the birth canal. Even though the mother pushes for a long period of time, the baby doesn’t come out. In this case, doctors evaluate the possibility of using a vacuum in order to avoid resorting to C-section .

If the mother’s water has yet to break, the OB/GYN will break it for her and possibly administer a local anesthesia. A medical professional will inject this anesthesia into the vaginal wall. Then, with the oncoming of contractions, the doctor will invite the mother to push.

At the same time, the doctor uses a vacuum to create a slight suction to draw the baby out. The mother’s pushing along with the suctioning will help finally bring the baby into the world.

Obstetric vacuums are flexible plastic cups that adhere to the baby’s head and create suction. The instrument connects to a hand pump or electric aspirator. The cup forms a vacuum-tight seal on the baby’s head, which is located within the birth canal.

“Thanks to advances in medical technology, obstetric vacuums are now very small and disposable. This makes them easier and safer to use”

Vacuum-assisted Birth: Purpose and Risks

When do doctors practice vacuum-assisted birth?

  1. When the mother has pushed for several hours and the baby isn’t advancing through the birth canal.
  2. When the mother is showing signs of exhaustion.
  3. If there is evidence of danger or complication, meaning the baby must be removed urgently.
  4. When the mother or baby’s health are at risk.

Risks of vacuum-assisted birth

Vacuum-assisted births are nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, they are quite common. Therefore, medical professionals are used to performing them.

A medical team should always be present to control the procedure. If this is the case, and the baby is far enough down the birth canal, then the method is perfectly safe.
While it naturally produces doubt and a certain degree of fear among pregnant women, it usually occurs without complications. However, you should still be aware of the possible risks:

Risks for the baby

The baby faces greater risks than the mother in this case. This is because the doctor applies the instrument directly to the little one’s head.

  • Bleeding below the scalp. This can occur due to the separation of the skin from the bone. As a result, a hematoma forms on the top of the baby’s head. In general, the hematoma goes away after a few weeks.
  • The presence of infant jaundice. When the red blood cells in the hematoma decompose, they release bilirubin. As a result, the baby’s skin may acquire a yellowish tone.
  • Retinal hemorrhage. This occurs because of the pressure caused by the vacuum. There are no major long-term consequences.

Risk for the mother

The risks for the mother are very few, and similar to those she may suffer during natural childbirth.

  • Vaginal tearing and tearing of the anal sphincter.
  • Tearing and pain in the perineal region (the tissue found between the vagina and the anus).
  • Urinary incontinence as a result of the previous complications.
Vacuum-assisted Birth: Purpose and Risks

As we mentioned above, the risks involved in vacuum-assisted birth are minor. However, there are certain scenarios when professionals don’t recommend this method, or must perform it as quickly as possible.

For example, vacuum-assisted birth is not recommended when the pregnancy is less than 34 weeks along. The same is true when there is a disproportion between the size of the baby’s head the mother’s pelvis.

Furthermore, if the suction cup separates from the baby’s head more than twice, then doctors should abandon the procedure.

The final scenario is when traction has been applied on seven different occasions for a period of more than 15 to 20 minutes. In this case, the doctor should cease further attempts and proceed with a C-section as soon as possible.

It’s normal for a mother to feel worried when doctors tell her they need to resort to assisted birth. However, the use of a vacuum doesn’t increase risks. 

For both mother and baby, the risks are minimal. The consequences associated with this procedure are temporary and disappear within a few weeks.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.