Vacuum Extraction Injury

Even though birth-assisting tools have been used for decades, the incidences of birth injuries associated with their use  during delivery still occurs. A vacuum-extraction tool, although beneficial during difficult deliveries, can leave a host of medical issues is used improperly.

What is a Vacuum Extraction?

When a difficult labor takes too long, a doctor may choose to use a vacuum extractor to assist with delivery. During a contraction, the doctor will apply a soft cup or a hard cup to the top and back of the baby’s head and will help to use suction to assist will pulling the baby out.

What Kind of Injury Can a Vacuum Extractor Cause?

The FDA has warned that using a vacuum extractor can unnecessarily risk the baby’s health. The baby should be younger than 34 weeks gestation, the child should not be proportionately too large for the mother’s pelvis, baby’s head shouldn’t be too far up in the birth canal, the baby should not require repositioning to be properly delivered, and the mother should be fully dilated.

Birth injuries vary depending on how the vacuum extractor was used (or misused) but generally the injuries include skull fractures, retinal hemorrhages, brachial plexus injuries (also known as shoulder dystocia, Erb’s palsy, or Klumpke’s Palsy), brain hemorrhages, and cerebral palsy. Some of these conditions untreated lead to paralysis, intellectual disability, and other life-long conditions, and some conditions (such as a hemorrhage) left untreated could even lead to death.

What are the Symptoms of these Vacuum Extraction-Related Birth Injuries?

Because the types of injuries vary, symptoms vary depending on the injury itself. For example, if the injuries are primarily related to the brachial plexus nerves (the nerves between the neck and shoulder), the child’s symptoms may be more related to arm weakness, paralysis, or a claw-like hand. Those symptoms would not be the same symptoms as related to, say, skull fractures.

However, because a vacuum extraction does relate to the brain and most of the injuries are head or brain related, the two most common symptoms are lethargy and seizures, which may happen within hours of birth.

Are Vacuum Extraction Injuries Preventable?

Vacuum extraction injuries are preventable. Sometimes a mother can request that a doctor uses forceps instead of a vacuum extractor, and other times during delivery, the mother can ask the doctor what stage the baby is at before she approves the use of a vacuum extractor.

If the parents are finding out after the fact that the baby has a birth injury due to a vacuum extraction, there are ways that the injury can be treated, though long-term recovery is slow, and some children may not be able to make a full recovery at all, depending on how severe the injuries are.