What Is Vacuum Assisted Delivery? Its Procedure & Alternatives

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There are times during natural childbirth or vaginal deliveries when certain situations or complications may require a doctor’s intervention to assist the delivery. Vacuum-assisted delivery is one such method to assist complicated natural deliveries where a baby is pulled out from the birth canal with the help of a vacuum pump.

Read along to know more about vacuum-assisted delivery, its types, procedure, prerequisites, risks, and when to avoid this procedure.

What Is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery?

When the mother is unable to push anymore while delivering the baby, doctors take the help of instrumental delivery, such as a vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery. In this case, a vacuum cup is used to pull out the baby from the birth canal. The vacuum cup, also called the ventouse cup, is made of plastic and attaches to the baby’s head, pulling it out with the help of a vacuum (1).

Why Is Vacuum-Assisted Vaginal Delivery Done?

There may be several reasons why a doctor can suggest assisted mode of delivery with the help of a vacuum cup (2).

  • Labor is progressing slower than expected, usually for several hours, increasing the mother’s discomfort.
  • The mother is unable to push further because she is exhausted or cannot push hard due to some medical conditions.
  • There are concerns regarding the baby’s safety, and the baby has to be delivered soon.

Before performing an assisted delivery, the doctor or medical professional will consider the following factors (3).

How Is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Done?

The procedure for vacuum-assisted delivery is described as follows (4).

  • You will be given a local anesthetic injection or an epidural (injection in the back) to block pain during the procedure.
  • The vacuum cup is gently placed in a balanced way across the fetus’ scalp.
  • Once the cup is successfully placed, the cup’s circumference is checked to avoid the tissues of the vaginal or cervical area from getting confined in between.
  • After checking the circumference and the attachment, suction is applied. The pressure of the vacuum extractors is gradually increased from 100 to 150 mm Hg to maintain the cup’s correct position.
  • Once the appropriate pressure is reached, pressure is applied along the pelvic curve with the help of two hands to help the process of traction.
  • The traction is discontinued when the mother stops pushing at the end of a contraction.

What Are The Complications Of A Vacuum-Assisted Delivery?

Fetal morbidity is a notable complication of vacuum-assisted delivery. In addition, it increases the chances of injuries, such as scalp lacerations, intracranial hemorrhage, retinal hemorrhage, and cephalohematoma, by 5% (4).

Maternal complications of the procedure can include the following.

  • Perineal pain during delivery
  • Heavy blood loss after delivery
  • Stool and urinary incontinence
  • Hematomas (accumulation of blood outside the blood vessels)
  • Vaginal tears or perineal lacerations
  • Maternal morbidity

Vacuum delivery, if done properly, is mostly safe for babies. The only risk that this entails is bleeding under the baby’s scalp, which usually goes away by itself and does not cause any serious problems.

When Is Vacuum-Assisted Delivery Not Recommended?

Vacuum-assisted delivery may not be recommended in the following scenarios.

  • The cervix is not fully dilated.
  • The fetus weighs more than four kilograms/eight pounds.
  • The baby’s head is not low enough into the birth canal.
  • There is an increased chance of the baby bleeding in the womb.
  • The fetus has low bone density.

In such cases, the doctor may soon perform a cesarean delivery to prevent injuries in the mother and the baby.

Are There Alternatives To Vacuum-Assisted Birth Procedure?

The potential alternatives to assisted delivery depend on the stage and duration of labor and the health conditions of the baby and the mother. The other techniques that are usually considered are:

  • Expectant management or watchful waiting of the symptoms
  • Stimulating the intensity and frequency of uterine contraction with the help of oxytocin
  • Emergency cesarean section

Key Pointers

  • Vacuum-assisted delivery is considered when the mother has complications during the natural delivery process.
  • The process involves using a vacuum cup attached to the baby’s scalp, helping in traction during the baby’s delivery.
  • Vacuum-assisted delivery may not be recommended in certain scenarios, such as when the baby’s head is not low enough in the birth canal.
  • It is a safe assisted-delivery process when conducted by an experienced healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is vacuum-assisted delivery painful?

You might experience pain in the areas between your vagina and anus after the delivery. The pain and discomfort do not usually last very long.

  1. Can vacuum-assisted delivery cause brain damage in babies?

Improperly conducted vacuum-assisted delivery and pre-existing fetal or maternal complications may increase the risk of brain injuries in babies during the procedure.

The process of birth is exciting, tiring, and risky. During this time, some situations might lead to using a vacuum-assisted delivery to ensure your and your baby’s well-being. If done carefully and accurately, it should not cause much harm to either of you. However, if you have any queries or questions about the process, talk to a doctor or healthcare provider.


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Sanjana Bhattacharjee

Sanjana did her post graduation in Applied Microbiology from Vellore Institute of Technology, India. Her interest in science and health, combined with her passion to write made her convert from a scientist to a writer. She believes her role at MomJunction combines the best of both worlds as she writes health-based content based on scientific evidence. Sanjana is trained in classical... more