Sometimes when a woman is having a difficult delivery, an obstetrician will use assistive devices like forceps and vacuum extractors. Forceps resemble large salad tongs and are placed on the sides of the baby’s head near the ears and cheeks. The doctor then gently pulls the baby’s head downward during a contraction to guide the baby out of the birth canal.
A vacuum extractor also assists the baby through the birth canal but uses suction instead. A suction cup attached to a pump is placed on the baby’s head, providing additional traction during contractions.
Despite their fairly common use, there are very serious risks associated with these tools.
The Dangers Of Forceps and Vacuum Extractors
Dangers of Incorrect Forceps Use
If forceps are placed incorrectly on the baby’s head, even a normal amount of pressure can do significant damage. Also, the likelihood of brain injury increases when forceps are used at the incorrect stage of delivery or when an inexperienced doctor uses them. Injuries range from mild bruising and swelling to more severe problems, including:
- Blood loss
- Cephalohematoma (bleeding in the space under the covering of the skull bone)
- Severed or injured spinal cord
- Brain damage and heavy bleeding from trauma
Dangers of Incorrect Vacuum Extractor Use
Some of the dangers associated with vacuum extractors include incorrect placement of the suction cup, improper vacuum strength, exceeding the recommended total time of use, and excessive attempts. Use of a vacuum extractor can cause a number of injuries from mild lacerations and bruising to catastrophic brain injury, sometimes resulting in death. The injuries most commonly associated with vacuum extraction:
- Blood clots
- Bruising under the scalp or skull
- Caput Succedaneum (swelling of the scalp)
- Retinal hemorrhages
- Bleeding in the brain
- Nerve damage leading to cerebral palsy, facial nerve palsy, or other conditions that affect a child’s ability to properly move certain muscles
The two most serious conditions associated with vacuum extraction prompted a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
- Intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding around or within the baby’s brain). This occurs when traction applied to the baby’s head causes vein injury and subsequent brain bleeding. It can cause nerve damage, neurological dysfunction, or death if not quickly corrected.
- Subgaleal hematoma. This is a serious condition where traction during delivery pulls the scalp and the layer of tissue just under the scalp away from the skull, injuring the veins. Blood then accumulates under the scalp. It is probably the most dangerous complication of vacuum extraction because the subgaleal space is large and a lot of fetal blood can accumulate.
What To Do When A Newborn Is Injured From Forceps Or Vacuum Delivery
While most assisted deliveries result in a healthy baby with little or no injury, others end with serious brain damage. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 1 in 664 babies delivered using forceps sustains a brain injury and about 1 in 860 infants delivered by vacuum extractor sustain brain damage. By comparison, in normal vaginal deliveries, the rate of brain injury is about 1 in 1,900. If your baby was diagnosed with brain injury following a forceps or vacuum delivery, you should seek legal assistance as soon as possible. For a free evaluation of your child’s case, email or call Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers at (888) 812-6009.