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

Posted on: 6 mins read
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Georgina Emsley

Solicitor, Medical Negligence

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The birth of a baby is a joyous event and marks the beginning of a new chapter for parents and families, a chapter which is filled with both excitement and fear.

Midwives and obstetricians do everything they can to ensure the safe delivery of babies in their care, without complication. The wellbeing of a mother and her baby are the main priority for the team of medical practitioners involved in delivery. They rely on a wealth of medical knowledge and experience within their department, and new technology.  

So if mothers experience problems during delivery such as foetal distress or maternal exhaustion, obstetric expertise may be sought to help deliver the baby safely, with use of forceps or by way of a vacuum delivery.

Naturally these interventions carry a degree of risk, so it is vital that treating clinicians provide the best standard of care to their patients. For instance, if the forceps are applied incorrectly, or the physician applies too much pressure, both mother and baby can sadly, be injured.

Whilst every effort will be made to make sure procedures are adhered to and policy is followed to avoid causing injury, things do sometimes go wrong.

a mother holding a newborn baby's hand

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If you or your child has suffered an injury during birth due to medical negligence, we could help you claim birth injury compensation. Speak to our Medical Negligence team to learn more.

What is a Forceps Delivery?

Forceps are a metal instrument that look like large 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 may be required 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 make its way naturally through the pelvis. This is known as an obstructed labour. It is important to use forceps urgently if there are any indicators of obstructed labour for example foetal distress, a drop in the baby’s heartbeat and/or sign(s) of oxygen deprivation. A swift delivery of the baby is needed in these urgent circumstances.

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 of the baby is too high in the pelvis or if for example, the cervix isn’t fully dilated.

A small cup is put on the baby’s head and suction is applied in between the mother’s contractions to slowly pull the baby down the birth canal. Sometimes, a mother needs to push at the same time. Vacuum delivery can only be attempted three times and if the cup slips from the baby’s head for a fourth time, the doctor must abandon the vacuum delivery and proceed to a C-Section.

a pregnant woman being attended to by a nurse


Before proceeding to a forceps or vacuum delivery, the patient should be properly consulted and advised of the risks that come with the procedure. Before any procedure is started, the patient must agree to undergo the procedure. It is your right to make your own decisions about your body, when in labour and at any other time. Agreeing to medical treatment is legally known as giving consent.

If the situation is an emergency and the decision to use forceps or a vacuum is an urgent one, consent needs to be obtained quickly.

When giving your consent, you will be asked to confirm that you understand the procedure and why it is needed. You will typically need to consent that you understand the following:

  • Nature of forceps delivery
  • Reasons for forceps use
  • Benefits of forceps delivery
  • Risks and complications
  • Alternative options
  • Questions and clarifications

Before the procedure, you will be prepared for treatment. A local anaesthetic is usually injected to numb the area between the vagina and anus if an epidural is not already in position, to provide pain relief.

What are the Risks of Forceps and Vacuum Deliveries?

There are risks with both 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, needing 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
  • Difficulty with future births

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
  • Scarring
  • 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. The obstetrics team aims to safely deliver the baby and protect the mother’s health so wherever possible, a forceps or vacuum delivery will be considered as an option before proceeding to any surgery.

How Simpson Millar Can Help You

Childbirth is unpredictable and this is why healthcare professionals have to provide the best level of care and act immediately if anything goes wrong.

Falling short of standards expected can lead to harm or injury to the mother, baby, or both. Whilst on the whole, medical practitioners aim to provide a reasonable standard of care, mistakes can still happen.

If you feel that avoidable mistakes were made during the delivery of your baby, and that you or your baby suffered an injury as a result, get in touch with our lawyers today. You may be eligible to make a Medical Negligence Claim. We can advise on the guidelines, but typically you must initiate a claim within three years of discovering negligent treatment.

Our team of specialist Medical Negligence Solicitors have worked on cases where treatment provided falls below a reasonable standard, and results in injury. You may have a successful case if your treating practitioner was in breach of their duty of care in any of the following ways:

  • Giving inadequate healthcare
  • Keeping improper records
  • Performing surgery to an inadequate standard
  • Administering incorrect medication/ doses
  • Misdiagnosing conditions, or failing to make diagnosis within a reasonable, timely manner

Our friendly legal team will be able to answer all of your questions to help you take the best course of action, depending on your circumstances.

We at Simpson Millar have strong values. We pledge to always provide transparent, honest and jargon-free legal advice, so you understand fully whether you are likely to be successful if you were to bring a claim for clinical negligence. If mistakes were made during your childbirth, then let us help you with your claims process.

As always, we’ll keep you updated with progress at all stages of your claim. We want to make sure that avoidable mistakes are not made in healthcare, ensure lessons are learned when mistakes are made and that the provision of healthcare is to a reasonable, acceptable standard for patients. We can look at your case under a Conditional Fee Agreement (also known as a No Win, No Fee ) so we can commence our investigations without requiring funds upfront from you, to pursue such a case.

Feel free to call our Solicitors today, and we can talk you through your options. Simply call 0808 239 6043 and we will be happy to help. We look forward to speaking with you, and putting your mind at ease.


Cerebral Palsy Guide (2023) Vacuum extractors - Injuries and side effects of vacuum delivery.

Center, B.I.J. (2023) Birth injuries caused by forceps delivery complications.

Assisted vaginal birth (ventouse or forceps) (2020). (Accessed: February 15, 2024).

Georgina Emsley

Solicitor, Medical Negligence

Areas of Expertise:
Medical Negligence

Georgina is a Solicitor who works in our Medical Negligence team here at Simpson Millar, based in our Manchester office.

She is a committed and highly reliable Solicitor with a track record of supporting clients through the process of making a claim to achieve the best outcome for them. Georgina has experience working on many high-value cases with a range of circumstances and complexities from start to finish, where she reviews medical records, liaises with experts and gathers evidence in order to negotiate the best possible settlement for her clients.

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