Understanding the Use of Forceps or Vacuum Extraction

The use of vacuum extraction or forceps occurs in about one in ten deliveries. Here is some information on when and when forceps or vacuum extraction is used.

by Patricia Hughes 

newborn and exhausted mom - baby born less than a minute from time of picture The use of vacuum extraction or forceps occurs in about one in ten deliveries. These instruments are used in situations where the baby is not in the right position and the heart rate is showing signs of distress. It is also used at times when the mother is exhausted and unable to push the baby out. Of the two methods, vacuum extraction has grown to be far more common than forceps in most hospitals.

Several factors influence whether forceps or vacuum extraction will be used in any given situation. One factor is the skill and comfort level of the doctor. Some are just better at using one over the other. If everything else is equal, the doctor will use the method he is most comfortable with. Since the skill of the doctor is important in reducing the risk of injury, this is an important factor.

Training and experience for the doctor is most crucial when using forceps. There is more room for error with a less experienced doctor, which can result in serious injury. The vacuum is easier to use making errors based on incorrect use less common. Many feel this is the safer method, unless there is a specific need for forceps or the practitioner is highly skilled in the use.

Sometimes the position of the baby will determine which is the best tool in your situation. The vacuum isn’t flexible and the baby’s head has to be low enough to create the suction needed. If not, forceps may be needed. Also, if the baby needs to be rotated to allow her to be born, forceps are the more effective method.

A study conducted at the UC Davis School of Medicine of the live births in the state of California between the years of 1992 and 1994 found a low rate of serious injury to newborns resulting from the use of vacuum extraction.

The risks associated with using forceps include injury to the baby’s head, misshapen head, injury to the spinal cord and brain damage. The risks associated with the use of vacuum extraction include damage to the baby’s scalp, brain damage and painful tearing to the mother. For both, there is a risk of failure, resulting in the need for a c section.

There are risks with all medical interventions used during labor. Doctors weigh these risks in making recommendations to patients. In the case of vacuum extraction and forceps, the doctor will determine that the risk of using these tools is less than doing nothing or performing a c section. In general, both forceps and vacuum are thought to be safer than a c section in many situations.

However, if the baby is positioned too high to safely use forceps or vacuum extraction, your doctor will recommend a c section. Many of the terrible stories repeated throughout the years are the result of using forceps when the baby is positioned too high. In this case, the c section is the safest alternative. Make sure you discuss any fears or concerns with your doctor.

Patricia Hughes is a freelance writer and mother of four. Patricia has a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Florida Atlantic University. She has written extensively on pregnancy, childbirth, parenting and breastfeeding. In addition, she has written about home décor and travel.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © 2008 All Rights Reserved
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