Vaginal Birth Using Forceps And Vacuum – Is Assisted Vaginal Delivery Safe?

Vaginal Birth Using Forceps And Vacuum – Is Assisted Vaginal Delivery Safe?

Normally, during the natural childbirth, your little one would come out into this world with just pushing. But at times, babies don’t arrive according to plan and may need a little assistance to bring them into your arms. In such cases, the doctor uses certain methods to deliver the child which we will discuss in this article.

Assisted Vaginal Delivery

Assisted or operative vaginal delivery is needed when the childbirth is not moving ahead in the pushing stage of labor. In these cases, the medical team will be using certain devices such as forceps and vacuum extractor to deliver the child safely.

These techniques are typically used when there is prolonged labor with more than 2-3 hours of pushing. These tools might also become necessary when the doctor sees that the heart rate of the baby is dropping and needs to make a quick exit. These techniques are not used until the cervix is fully dilated with the baby’s head positioned no more than 2 inches above the vaginal opening.

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Forceps delivery

Forceps are metal devices that are used to guide baby’s head through the birth canal if the delivery seems to be difficult. Forceps are like a long pair of spoons or tongs. Sometimes forceps are used when the baby is in distress or the head of the baby is far down in the birth canal.

Forceps can also be used when the doctor sees that baby’s face is not in the right direction or not moving down the birth canal. The reason behind this could be atony of the uterus, means the uterus is not contracting enough to deliver the baby.

Before delivering the child using forceps, the area around the vagina is usually numbed by injecting an anesthetic. Moreover, the doctor will be performing episiotomy (making a cut or incision between the vagina and the anus) before conducting delivery using forceps.

Advantages of using forceps

According to World Health Organization, forceps have higher success rates as compared to vacuum. Trained doctors who have been practicing for years would prefer using forceps as an ideal approach to delivery. Secondly, use of forceps poses less risk of cephalhematoma as against vacuum extractor. Cephalhematoma is a condition in which blood accumulates in the area between the skull bones and tissue of baby’s head.

Disadvantages of using forceps

Using forceps technique increases the chance of vaginal tears as compared to vacuum extractor. Though these tears can be repaired but the recovery time is extended. Forceps deliveries are also associated with the risk of facial nerve damage. Although these complications are uncommon but they are more common when forceps are used.

Vacuum extractor delivery

In some other cases, doctors may use an instrument called vacuum extractor. The vacuum isn’t the same as used in households but it does involve suction. The cup-shaped extractor allows the doctor to apply a gentle suction to the top of your baby’s head and guide it to the birth canal. The device prevents the head of the baby to recede back up into the birth canal.

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Advantages of using vacuum extractor

Vacuum extractors have become more common in assisted vaginal deliveries nowadays. The technique generally required less amount of anesthesia and pain-relieving medications as compared to forceps, thus, less amount of risk.

Disadvantages of using vacuum extractor

Though vacuum extractor poses less risk, it has higher failure rates. And when deliveries through vacuum extractor fail, the c-section delivery becomes inevitable. This increases the chances of complications for both the mother and the baby.

Vacuum extractor can also contribute to other complications such as retinal haemorrhage, a condition in which bleeding occurs in the blood vessels of retina of the baby. Vacuum extractor also poses the risk of cephalhematoma. All these complications can occur due to trauma during birth. In some cases, vacuum extraction may result in swelling or bruising on baby’s scalp.

Bottom Line

The team of doctors must be well versed to handle specific cases where these techniques are applied. If you have any doubt about the use of forceps and vacuum extractor, you should ask your gynecologist and better understand these techniques and the risks they pose.


1. Ali and Norwitz (2009).Vacuum-Assisted Vaginal Delivery read more
2. Assisted delivery with forceps(2016, May 16). MedlinePlus read more
3. Forceps or vacuum delivery(2017, January 12). NHS
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