vacuum birth injuries, woman giving birth surrounded by doctors in hospitalFor many births, everything goes as planned and the mother has a successful vaginal delivery. However, 5% of deliveries will require operative vaginal deliveries such as the use of forceps or vacuum extractors. These devices are used in assisted delivery techniques during these deliveries and are used to help the baby make its way through the birth canal.

Both the mother and the baby may be at risk of sustaining vacuum birth injuries. While some injuries may be considered complications, there may be times when the birth injury is caused due to the negligence of a healthcare professional. In this article, we’ll discuss what vacuum extractors are, why they are used, and when a vacuum birth injury is due to expected complications or negligent mistakes.

What Are Vacuum Extractors and Why Are They Used?

A vacuum extractor is a device that consists of a soft suction cup attached to the baby’s head and is employed by medical professionals to guide the infant through the birth canal with the assistance of gentle suction. When conventional methods of childbirth are not progressing as expected, and factors such as prolonged labor or abnormal fetal position are causing challenges, vacuum extractors can play a crucial role in ensuring the safe and timely delivery of the baby.

The decision to use a vacuum extractor is made by the medical team based on a careful assessment of the specific circumstances and the well-being of both the mother and the baby. The device is applied during a contraction when the mother is pushing, and the doctor provides gentle suction to facilitate the baby’s progress through the birth canal. The amount and duration of suction are determined by factors like the baby’s position, the mother’s condition, and the progress being made.

When things are not going as planned, there are several reasons why a doctor may choose to attempt a vacuum-assisted delivery.

  • Prolonged Labor. Medical guidelines, including those from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), suggest that if the second stage of labor (when the cervix is fully dilated) exceeds two hours, assisted delivery techniques like vacuum extraction may be recommended. This is to reduce the risk of fetal distress, birth complications, and maternal exhaustion.
  • Abnormal Presentation. Abnormal presentation of the baby, such as breech, where the baby enters the birth canal buttocks or feet first instead of the normal head-first position.
  • Shoulder Dystocia. This is a situation where the baby’s shoulders are too large to pass through the birth canal.
  • Maternal Exhaustion. The mother is getting too tired to continue pushing in a traditional delivery.
  • Fetal Distress. The baby has an abnormal heart rate causing fetal distress.
  • Avoid Cesarean Delivery (C-section). Sometimes, either the mother or healthcare professional wants to avoid a C-section and will use vacuum extraction methods to prevent this option.

When used appropriately and under the guidance of skilled medical professionals, vacuum extractors can significantly aid in the successful delivery of a healthy baby, especially in challenging birth situations. However, it’s important to note that improper use or inadequate precautions that lead to birth injuries can be considered medical negligence, opening medical professionals up to a potential medical malpractice lawsuit.

Injuries Caused By Vacuum Extractors

Vacuum extractors can cause a number of injuries and medical conditions. These injuries can range from minor to major with the most severe injuries requiring lifelong medical attention. Vacuum birth can lead to brachial plexus injuries, cerebral palsy, brain bleeds, skull fractures, and more.

Brachial Plexus Injuries

These injuries can occur when the baby’s head, shoulder, arm, or neck is pulled by the vacuum extractor while they are stuck in the birth canal. The brachial plexus network of nerves can be damaged, leading to varying levels of weakness or lack of movement in the affected arm. Recovery rates vary, with around 80% to 96% of babies recovering from Erb’s palsy.

Brain Bleeds

Excessive suction from the vacuum pump can cause blood vessels to rupture in the baby’s brain, leading to bleeding such as intracranial hemorrhage and subgaleal hematoma. This condition can result in brain damage and various neurological complications, depending on the severity of the bleed. Recovery can take weeks or months.

Cerebral Palsy

Vacuum extraction-related complications can contribute to cerebral palsy, a group of disorders affecting movement and muscle coordination. Pressure from the vacuum device during extraction can cause brain damage and contribute to cerebral palsy.

Other Injuries:

  • Blindness, Bruising, and Swelling: The force of vacuum extraction can lead to injuries such as blindness, bruising, or swelling of the head or brain.
  • Facial Nerve Palsy: Damage to facial nerves can lead to facial paralysis.
  • Hearing Loss: The vacuum’s force can cause damage to the delicate structures in the baby’s ears.
  • Kernicterus: Severe jaundice that affects the brain can lead to this serious condition.
  • Scalp Lacerations and Skull Fractures: Physical trauma during vacuum extraction can result in lacerations or fractures.
  • Stroke: Rarely, the pressure exerted during vacuum extraction can contribute to a stroke.

When Should Vacuum Extraction Not Be Used?

The use of vacuum extractors in childbirth can be a valuable tool when appropriately applied, but there are specific circumstances in which their use is not recommended, and alternative methods or approaches should be considered. These situations include:

  • Gestational Age Less than 34 Weeks
  • Inexperienced Medical Professionals
  • Abnormal Fetal Position
  • Maternal Blood Disorders
  • Fetal Scalp Sampling
  • Unknown Baby’s Head Position
  • Small Maternal Pelvis Size
  • Baby Not Advanced in Birth Canal
  • Baby’s Bone or Bleeding Disorders
  • Previous Failed Forceps Usage
  • Overlapping Cranial Bones and Heavy Caput
  • Macrosomic Baby
  • Cephalopelvic Disproportion

In these situations, it is crucial for medical professionals to carefully assess the risks and benefits and consider alternative delivery methods to ensure the safety and well-being of both the mother and the baby. Improper use of vacuum extraction in high-risk scenarios can result in serious complications, and legal action may be necessary if it is determined that the procedure was performed improperly.

Compensation For Vacuum Birth Injuries Caused By Medical Negligence

So how do you know if a vacuum birth injury was a complication or a consequence of a healthcare professional’s negligence? The best place to start is by contacting an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice. A skilled birth injury lawyer would be able to find a medical expert witness who can determine if your doctor met the standard of care.

Perhaps you felt that a C-section would have been a safer option for you and the baby than a vacuum extractor or that your doctor jumped to using this technique too soon. Whatever the case, if something seems wrong during or after your delivery and your baby is suffering medical challenges due to an event with a vacuum extractor, you may be owed compensation. Vacuum birth injuries can be financially devastating for a family and no one should be expected to pay for another’s mistake.

At Disparti Law Group Accident & Injury Lawyers, we want to hold negligent medical professionals accountable so everyone feels safe seeking medical care. To discuss your case with an experienced lawyer, call (312) 600-6000 today for a FREE consult.