Can Using Forceps or a Vacuum In Delivery Cause Injuries to My Baby?

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The birth of a baby is a joyous event, and midwives and obstetricians do everything they can to ensure a safe and normal delivery. But delivery can be hazardous, particularly for those going through their first pregnancy and labour.

So if mothers experience problems such as foetal distress or maternal exhaustion, obstetric help may be needed to help deliver the baby without injury, such as a Forceps or Vacuum Delivery.

Inevitably, these can carry some degree of risk, so it’s vital that treating clinicians provide the highest standard of care to their patients.

But while every effort will be made to make sure proper procedures are followed and injury is avoided, things do sometimes go wrong. 

For instance, if the Forceps are applied incorrectly, or the physician applies too much pressure, both mother and baby can, sadly, be injured.

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What is a Forceps Delivery?

Forceps are smooth metal instruments that look like large spoons or tongs. They’re curved to fit around the baby’s head and provide protection as the baby is pulled through the pelvis.

A Forceps Delivery can be needed if the presenting part of a baby, usually the head, or the buttocks in the case of a breech delivery, is in the wrong position and can’t come through the pelvis. This is known as an obstructed labour.

Foetal distress, such as a drop in the baby’s heartbeat, can be a sign of oxygen deprivation, and can also indicate a swift delivery is needed.

During a Forceps Delivery, a cut to the perineum (an episiotomy) may also be made to reduce the risk of tearing when the forceps are applied.

What is a Vacuum Delivery?

A Vacuum Delivery, also known as a Vacuum Extraction or Vacuum Assisted Delivery, is another common obstetric intervention, which may be needed when the head is high in the pelvis or when the cervix isn’t fully dilated. 

A small cup is applied to the baby’s head to guide it out, and suction is applied in between contractions to slowly pull it down the birth canal. Sometimes a mother needs to push at the same time. 

If the cup slips from the baby’s head more than three times, the doctor has to abandon the Vacuum Delivery and proceed to a C-Section.


Before proceeding to a Forceps or Vacuum Delivery, a woman should be properly consulted, so she is advised of the risks and agrees to the procedure. 

Of course, this decision may need to be taken during an emergency situation, so consent needs to be obtained quickly.

A local anaesthetic is usually injected to numb the area between the vagina and anus, if an Epidural is not in position, to provide pain relief.

What are the Risks of Forceps and Vacuum Deliveries?

There are risks with both of these procedures.

For the mother, these include:

  • Third or fourth degree tears, extending from the vagina to the anus or rectum. Tears need careful suturing but if a tear occurs and is missed, this can lead to a woman suffering permanent faecal incontinence, and in the worst cases, she may need a permanent colostomy
  • Urinary incontinence
  • A higher chance of blood clots forming in the legs or pelvis. A mother can help to avoid this by moving around as much as she can after the baby’s birth

Risks to the baby can include:

  • Marks to the baby’s head caused by the suction cap or forceps, and sometimes cuts are caused to the baby’s face or scalp. These usually disappear within a few days
  • Bruises to the baby’s head, which also usually disappear with time
  • More serious injuries, including skull fractures or damage to the cranial nerves resulting in facial paralysis
  • Brain damage and seizures

A Safer Alternative to Caesarean Sections

Woman often feel that Caesarean Section is a safer mode of delivery, but the risks associated with C-Sections are greater than those concerning Forceps or Vacuum Deliveries. So wherever possible, these will be considered as an option before proceeding to any surgery.

How Simpson Millar Can Help You

If you feel that mistakes were made during the delivery of your baby, and that you or your baby suffered an injury as a result, you should seek the help of a specialist Medical Negligence Solicitor, with experience in this area of law.

Our friendly, empathetic team of experts have helped many people just like you, and have a strong track record of success. Call us for a free, no obligation claims assessment, so we can speak about what’s happened to you and how we can help you.

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