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Vacuum extraction risk factors and infant head injuries

During a difficult labor, a health care provider may determine that the baby is at risk if it cannot be delivered quickly. In such cases, one of the options that may be presented is vacuum extraction. A mother who opts for vacuum extraction at a Washington hospital should be aware that it is not a procedure without risks, although the primary alternative is typically a Cesarean section, a surgery that comes with its own set of risks.

The Mayo Clinic explains that vacuum extraction involves a cup, handle and pump. The doctor places the cup against the baby’s head and applies suction with the pump, then guides it through the birth canal during contractions. A baby may have risk factors may make a vacuum extraction inadvisable, including the following:

  • A bleeding disorder
  • Weak bones
  • Unknown or breach position
  • Located above the birth canal midpoint
  • Less than 34 weeks gestational age

If the infant is unlikely to fit through the mother’s pelvis, or if there has been blood drawn from the baby’s scalp, a doctor will probably not recommend vacuum extraction.

According Medscape, babies who are delivered with instrumental assistance such as vacuum extraction have a higher rate of head injuries. These range from minor scalp issues to cranial fractures and bleeding inside the skull.

Because of the design of the device, a doctor should not attempt to rotate the baby’s head with it. This increases the risk of lacerations and bruising. There may also be more risk of these types of injuries if the device is used for more than 30 minutes. The cuts and bruises usually heal on their own or with minor medical attention.

Bleeding in the skull, known as subgaleal or subaponeurotic hemorrhage, could threaten the life of the infant. However, this injury is extremely uncommon when proper protocol is followed.