What are the risks associated with vacuum extraction delivery?

A vacuum extractor is a suction device sometimes used to deliver a baby. It is the duty of the physician to inform the mother of the risks of a vacuum extraction delivery, as well as the alternatives. Improper use of a vacuum extractor can result in birth injury.

Birth injuries from vacuum extraction delivery

Vacuum extraction can increase the risk of the following neonatal conditions (1):

    • Shoulder dystocia (when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck on the mother’s pelvic bone after the head has been delivered). This can cause a group of nerves to the arms and hands, called brachial plexus nerves, to be injured. It can also affect the baby’s ability to flex and rotate the arm, lead to permanent damage, or even paralysis.
    • Skull fractures
    • Scalp wounds
    • Fetal stroke: Inappropriate use of vacuum extractors can cause severe brain damage from brain bleeds, contusions in the brain, stretching and tearing of blood vessels and brain tissue, and compression of the brain with changes in blood flow. In addition, trauma from vacuum extractor use can cause the formation of blood clots inside blood vessels (thrombosis), which can lead to a stroke.
    • Brain hemorrhages or bleeds: Vacuum extraction can cause brain bleeds (2). A serious complication of a vacuum extraction is a subgaleal brain hemorrhage. This occurs when the vacuum ruptures a vein, which bleeds into a space between the scalp and skull. This condition is life threatening with a mortality rate as high as 20%. About 90% of all subgaleal hemorrhages are related to vacuum extraction. This type of bleeding is most likely to occur with excessive force, prolonged cup application, misapplication or misuse of the vacuum, or if forceps are also used (which is contrary to the medical standard of care). There are many types of brain hemorrhages that can occur during forceps use. This often leads to neurological impairments and cerebral palsy. Other types of brain hemorrhages include the following:
      • Cerebral hemorrhage: This is a form of stroke where bleeding occurs within the brain.
      • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: This is bleeding in the subarachnoid space, which is the area between the innermost of the two membranes that cover the brain. This type of hemorrhage usually occurs in full-term babies, and it can lead to seizures, lethargy, and apnea.
      • Intraventricular hemorrhage: This is when there is bleeding into the brain’s ventricular system, where spinal fluid is produced. It is the most serious type of intracranial bleeding and is usually seen in premature infants and infants with low birth weight. This is because blood vessels in the brain of premature infants are not fully developed and are therefore weak.
      • Subdural hemorrhage or subdural hematoma: This occurs when there is a rupture of one or more blood vessels in the subdural space, which is the area between the surface of the brain and the thin layer of tissue that separates the brain from the skull. These ruptures are usually caused from difficult deliveries. Seizures, high levels of bilirubin in the blood, rapidly enlarging head, a poor Moro reflex, or extensive retinal hemorrhages sometimes occur with these kinds of hemorrhages.
      • Cephalohematoma: This is bleeding that occurs between the skull and its covering, starting as a bump on the baby’s head. It occurs a few hours after birth and lasts anywhere from 2 weeks to a few months.
Vacuum extractor; vents; fetal head injury; smbgaleal hematoma; intracranial hemorrhage; nuchal cord; vacuum extraction; subarachnoid hemorrhage; infant brain damage; neonatal brain injury

Improper use of vacuum extractors can cause hematomas, intracranial hemorrhages, and permanent brain damage

Legal help for vacuum extractor injuries

Children injured due to the misuse of vacuum extractors often require specialized care throughout their  lives. Therapy, special education, and assistive technology will allow your loved one to navigate their diagnosis easier. If a medical professional’s error caused your loved one’s disabilities, you are likely entitled to compensation to afford these resources. We encourage you to contact us today for a free legal consultation. During your case review, our team of birth injury attorneys, nurses, and professionals will determine if medical malpractice caused your loved one’s injuries, identify the negligent party, and inform you of your legal options.

ABC Law Centers (Reiter & Walsh, P.C.) is one of the only law firms in the United States exclusively handling birth injury cases. We focus solely on helping families like yours obtain the resources they need, and our niche focus allows us to win even the most medically and legally complex cases. To begin your free case review, please contact us in any of the following ways:

Free Case Review  |  Available 24/7  |  No Fee Unless We Win

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Related Resources


  1. Vacuum extraction. (2020, August 18). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vacuum-extraction/about/pac-20395232
  2. Infant Intracranial Hemorrhages (Brain Bleeds): Birth Injuries. (2020, September 24). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/prenatal-birth-injuries/traumatic-birth-injuries/intracranial-hemorrhages/
  3. Newborn Subgaleal Hematoma and Medical Malpractice. (2019, July 24). Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.abclawcenters.com/practice-areas/neonatal-birth-injuries/neonatal-intensive-care-unit-nicu/baby-brain-bleeds/subgaleal-hemorrhage/