Newborn and Infant Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Injuries
When properly employed, vacuum extractors are an effective tool in a doctor’s arsenal. Using a soft suction cup to attach to a baby’s head, vacuum extractors are used to gently guide the baby through its mother’s birth canal and avoid birth situations with greater risks, like emergency C-sections or prolonged fetal distress. Currently in the US, about two-thirds of operative vaginal deliveries were vacuum-assisted.
Like any medical procedure, there are also risks to vacuum-assisted delivery. Doctors making use of such a tool must carefully observe whether or not it is working — otherwise they risk doing damage to the baby’s head and body. Nerve damage like brachial plexus injuries, head injuries like cephalohematomas and even brain injuries like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy may result from medical malpractice during vacuum-assisted delivery.
When is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Indicated?
According to the Mayo Clinic, labor typically must meet certain criteria for vacuum-assisted delivery to be suggested — the mother’s cervix should be fully dilated, her membranes should already have ruptured and the baby should be positioned headfirst in the birth canal, with progress having slowed from that point. A vacuum extraction is only appropriate in a birthing center or hospital where a C-section can be done, if needed.
Vacuum-assisted delivery. Source: Wikipedia
After meeting these basic criteria, the following factors may lead a healthcare professional to suggest vacuum-assisted delivery:
- The mother is pushing, but labor isn’t progressing
- The baby’s heartbeat is abnormal
- The mother has a health concern that leads the doctor to limit her time in labor
- The mother is exhausted
When Should Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Not Be Recommended?
The Mayo Clinic also lists several complicating factors that doctors should watch for before recommending the use of a vacuum extractor. These include:
- A pre-term birth of 34 weeks or less
- The baby has a condition that affects the strength of their bones, or a bleeding disorder like hemophilia
- The baby’s head hasn’t moved past the midpoint of the birth canal, or the position of the head is unknown
- The baby is positioned for a breech birth
- The baby is too large to fit through the birth canal
The Injuries That Can Result from Vacuum-Assisted Delivery
Although vacuum extraction is used to prevent birth complications, it can sometimes result in complications of its own — which can cause injury to both mother and baby.
For the mother, risks include:
- Genital pain and tears
- Blood loss and subsequent anemia
- Muscle and ligament weakness around the pelvic organs
- Short-term difficulty urinating
- Short-term or long-term urinary or fecal incontinence
Infant with ventilator. Source: Wikipedia
For the baby, risks include:
- Scalp wounds, cephalohematoma
- A higher risk of the baby’s shoulder being stuck after the head has been delivered, which can result in brachial plexus injuries
- Skull fracture
- Brain hemorrhages, which can lead to cerebral palsy
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy
Signs That Medical Negligence May Be to Blame
The standard of care for vacuum-assisted delivery is very exact, and departing from protocol can cause permanent injury. If use of the vacuum extractor isn’t limited to the following practices, medical negligence may be to blame for a vacuum extraction-related injury:
- A maximum of three contractions in the descent phase (until the baby’s head descends to the outlet of the pelvis)
- A maximum of three contractions in the delivery phase
- The cup dislodges a maximum of two to three times
- The procedure takes a total time of 15-30 minutes
- These guidelines should be reduced for premature or low-birth weight babies, as they have more delicate bones and softer tissue than full-term babies
In addition, correct cup placement is crucial.
The physician must also know when to abandon the procedure — promptly proceeding to an emergency C-section if the vacuum extraction method isn’t working. In these cases, forceps-assisted delivery is not recommended.
When to Consult with an Experienced Birth Injury Attorney
With birth injuries stemming from vacuum-assisted delivery, the best course of action is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell as soon as possible. With over 30 years of experience in cases of birth trauma, McEldrew Young Purtell is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of medical negligence or professional malpractice. All birth injury claims are handled on a contingency basis.