The Risks and Benefits of Forceps vs Vacuum-Assisted Deliveries June 7, 2024.

The Risks and Benefits of Forceps vs Vacuum-Assisted Deliveries

Childbirth is both an exciting and challenging experience. One common challenge during labor is when the baby is having trouble moving through the birth canal. Fortunately, there are medical instruments, such as forceps or vacuums, that can be used to assist during delivery. These tools are effective when used correctly, but they also carry certain risks that can lead to birth injuries.

When are Forceps or Vacuums Used During Delivery?

Forceps and vacuums are used during the second stage of labor, after pushing has begun, to help guide the baby out of the birth canal. 

Some circumstances that may need an assisted delivery include: 

  • The mother has underlying health issues.

  • The baby is showing signs of being in distress.

  • The mother is tired and can’t push anymore.

  • The labor isn't progressing.

Forceps Delivery

In the United States, only .5% of vaginal births use forceps, which are metal instruments that resemble large salad tongs. They are curved to fit around the baby’s head. However, if they are misused, then serious birth injuries can occur.

What Are The Benefits of a Forceps Delivery?

Forceps can be extremely useful during delivery. Some of the benefits of using them to assist with birth include:

  1. Avoiding a C-section. In some cases, where the baby is not positioned correctly for delivery, forceps can be used to rotate the baby. Once the baby is rotated, the mother will be able to proceed with a normal delivery, avoiding a risky second stage C-section. 

  1. Faster delivery. A forceps-assisted delivery can potentially be faster, in comparison to a natural birth or C-section. In fact, some women give birth within a couple of minutes. 

  1. Some scalp Injuries are less likely. The rate of scalp injuries, like Cephalohematomas or hematomas, is lower. However, injuries to the baby’s scalp can still happen during any assisted delivery.

What Are The Risks of a Forceps Delivery?

Serious, long-term injuries are rare, but still possible, especially if the baby is in distress during the delivery.

Other risks that can occur to the baby include:

  1. Facial bruises or wounds. A newborn's head and face are very delicate. So, the pressure of the forceps around the baby's head can cause bruising or wounds. 

  1. Facial nerve damage. Pressure can cause damage to the facial nerves. While these nerves typically repair over time, there is a risk that the child will have permanent facial nerve damage.

  1. Shoulder dystocia. Shoulder dystocia happens when the baby’s shoulder(s) gets stuck behind the mother’s pelvic bone. A forceps-assisted birth increases the likelihood of shoulder dystocia.

  1. Brain damage. Permanent brain damage can occur if the baby’s head is stretched too far, or if the doctor uses excessive force during delivery. In mild cases, the child is likely to recover with no long-term effects. However, severe brain damage can result in cerebral palsy, autism, and epilepsy. 

  1. Skull fracture. Doctors have to be gentle when using forceps because newborns' skulls are very fragile. However, excessive force can fracture the skull. The severity of the skull fractures varies, mild fractures will heal on their own, while severe fractures can cause brain damage.

  1. Epilepsy. Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical brain activity, which causes seizures. A study found that babies delivered with forceps were more likely to be diagnosed with epilepsy. Many children grow out of this condition by adulthood.

  1. Cerebral Palsy: Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder caused by brain damage. It affects movement, posture, balance, and muscle tone. Children with mild cerebral palsy often grow up to be healthy adults, while children with severe cerebral palsy typically have significant mental and physical impairments.

Vacuum-Assisted Delivery

Vacuum-assisted deliveries make up about 2.5% of vaginal deliveries each year. A vacuum tool is essentially a suction cup that is attached to the baby’s head.

What Are The Benefits of Having a Vacuum-Assisted Delivery?

  1. Lower risk of facial injury. Since the suction cup is attached to the baby's scalp, there is a reduced risk of facial lacerations or wounds. However, facial and scalp bruising is still possible.

  1. Doesn’t require anesthesia. In urgent situations, it is better to try to use a vacuum to assist in delivery, instead of a C-section. This is because the mother usually does not need anesthesia before this. 

  1. Faster than surgery. In situations where the baby is oxygen-deprived, they need to be delivered quickly. A C-section is time-consuming because several steps take place before the procedure. It takes time for the mother to be moved to an operating room and for the anesthesia to kick in. This can waste valuable minutes when the baby can be delivered using a vacuum.

What Are The Risks of Having a Vacuum-Assisted Delivery?

Even though vacuums are used in thousands of deliveries every year, complications can still happen to the baby. 

Potential risks include:

  1. Caput succedaneum. Caput succedaneum may develop from the pressure of the suction cup on the baby's head. This is fluid that builds around the scalp and can make the baby’s head look cone-shaped. Though this may look scary, it is harmless. 

  1. Scalp bruising. Newborns' soft scalps are easily bruised, so the suction cup can cause bruising on the head. Like any bruise, it should disappear on its own within a week or so.

  1. Jaundice. Bruising of the newborn’s scalp can cause jaundice. This condition makes the baby’s skin and the whites of their eyes appear yellow. Jaundice occurs from a high amount of bilirubin in the baby's blood. In some cases, light therapy may be needed to decrease the amount of bilirubin in the blood.

  1. Cephalohematoma. Cephalohematoma occurs when blood vessels in the baby’s head burst. This causes the blood to pool under the scalp and form a soft lump. No treatment is necessary, and the lump should go away within a few weeks to a few months. However, it is important to note that cephalohematoma can increase the risk of the baby developing jaundice or an infection.

  1. Subgaleal Hematoma. Subgaleal hematomas arise when blood pools between the baby’s skin and skull. This condition is a life-threatening emergency, due to internal bleeding. Newborns can lose up to 40% of their blood volume if they experience a subgaleal hematoma. However, if it is treated quickly with medical intervention, then the baby will have a better prognosis.

  1. Erb’s Palsy. Erb’s Palsy results from nerve damage that is caused by the pulling or stretching of an infant's neck during the birth process. Erb’s palsy affects the upper brachial plexus nerves that control arm movements. In most cases, the nerves will repair, however, some babies are left with permanent damage. In severe cases of Erb’s palsy, many children have total paralysis of their affected arm.

Did Your Baby Suffer a Birth Injury After a Forceps or Vacuum Delivery?

Birth injuries can result in permanent mental or physical impairments, turning a joyful day into a scary situation for families. The costs of medical treatment and therapy to address these conditions can be substantial. 

However, families whose children suffered injuries due to the use of vacuum or forceps may be able to sue their doctor for medical malpractice. While suing your doctor may sound like a scary and complicated process, our team is here to guide you through the legal process.

How The Mellino Law Firm Can Help Your Family

The Mellino Law Firm stands with families in Northern Ohio, whose children suffered injuries during birth. Our experienced birth injury attorneys are dedicated to fighting for fair compensation for our clients. We understand how overwhelming medical malpractice cases are for families, so we aim to support them every step of the way. From the beginning of your case, all the way to trial, we vow to give your family unwavering support.

With our extensive expertise in handling birth injury cases, we have secured millions of dollars for our clients.

Contact our Cleveland-based birth injury attorneys by dialing (440) 333-800, and our team will help you schedule a free initial consultation.