Vacuum-Assisted Birth and Cerebral Palsy

Birth Injury, Causes of Cerebral Palsy

mother holding newborn in front of orange background

Some birth deliveries don’t go as planned and require other measures be taken to ensure the mother and baby are safe and healthy throughout the entire birthing experience. One of these measures is a vacuum-assisted delivery. While rare, this type of procedure can cause harm to the baby, with one of the potential risks being cerebral palsy if the vacuum extractors are used improperly. Here we explore what a vacuum-assisted birth is, the potential risks and birth injuries that may arise from this procedure, symptoms of birth injuries caused by vacuum extraction and what to do if this procedure injured your baby.

What Is Vacuum Assist or Vacuum Extraction?

Vacuum assist, also referred to as vacuum extraction, is a method used in delivery to help ease the baby out of the birth canal. The tool used is known as a vacuum extractor. This tool is a soft suction cup that is placed on the back and top of the baby’s head. A tube is attached from the cup to a vacuum pump to provide suction to gently pull the baby’s head out of the birth canal.
Vacuum assist or extraction is something that’s known as assisted delivery. Another example of assisted delivery includes using forceps, a salad tong-shaped instrument, during birth. Using this or other assisted delivery methods during childbirth is known as operative vaginal delivery. An estimated 20% of all live births in the United States are done via operative vaginal deliveries.

Why Would Vacuum Assist Be Used?

There are a few reasons why a doctor may choose to assist childbirth by using vacuum extraction. The most common reasons this method is used include an urgent need to deliver the baby as soon as possible, or because labor isn’t progressing as it should. Other reasons a vacuum extraction may be used include:

  • The mother has a health condition: Health conditions such as those affecting the heart can make it difficult for the mother to push her baby out. A vacuum assist can allow the mother to still have a natural birth with the added help from the vacuum extractor.
  • The baby is in distress: During labor, a baby’s heartbeat can begin beating irregularly. When this happens, doctors often want to get the baby out as soon as possible, and a vacuum assist may be the best way to do so.

When performed safely and accurately, vacuum extraction is considered to be less risky than a C-section.

How a Vacuum-Assisted Birth Can Go Wrong

When done properly, a vacuum-assisted delivery is safe and often has very few side effects. However, when errors are made or this technique is performed improperly, serious risk and birth injuries can happen. The most common ways using vacuum extraction can result in injury or other harm include:

  • The physician places the cup of the vacuum pump in the wrong position on the infant’s head
  • The wrong vacuum cup type or size is used for the baby’s head
  • The doctor uses the vacuum extractor for too long before choosing to perform an emergency C-section
  • The neck or head of the baby is twisted too much by the doctor during the procedure
  • The physician uses too much force when pulling or the baby is pulled in the wrong direction
  • The vacuum extraction is attempted when the baby is too high in the birth canal

Potential Birth Injuries Caused by Vacuum Extraction

When any of the above situations occur during a vacuum-assisted delivery, the possibility for birth injuries to the baby rises dramatically. Common birth injuries that can result from this type of assisted delivery include:

  • Subgaleal hematoma: This condition is very rare but can be life-threatening. Subgaleal hematomas (or hemorrhages) happen when veins around the brain and skull are ruptured by external trauma to the head. This results in blood pooling in the area between the skull and scalp and causes internal pressure and swelling.
  • Erb’s palsy: This condition happens when the group of nerves in the hands and arms are injured and results in the baby’s inability to rotate and/or flex their arm. This condition can be permanent.
  • Brain damage: This can occur as a result of the vacuum extractor being used incorrectly and causing injuries to the brain.
  • Skull fractures: This may happen if the if the vacuum extractor is used improperly or with too much force.
  • Cerebral palsy: Cerebral palsy may be caused by a birth injury resulting from vacuum extraction if the part of the brain responsible for motor function is injured during the procedure.


In many cases, there is little you can do to prevent birth injuries that are a result of a vacuum-assisted delivery. If this is a procedure you know you don’t want to be performed during your delivery, be sure to speak with your delivering physician ahead of time to learn about other options if the need for an assisted delivery arises. If you had a vacuum-assisted delivery and you believe your child’s cerebral palsy was a result of this method, you may have a case and be eligible for compensation. Contact the Cerebral Palsy Family Lawyers at Janet, Janet & Suggs, LLC to learn more about your options.

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