When labor is not progressing and the baby is in distress, vacuum-assisted delivery is an alternative to a cesarean section or using forceps. The Cleveland Clinic explains that a vacuum extractor consists of a suction cup attached to an electric or mechanical pump. The suction cup goes on the baby’s head, and the pump creates a vacuum that allows the doctor to guide the baby out.
Vacuum-assisted delivery is less risky than cesarean section. Nevertheless, according to Healthline, it can also have complications.
1. Skull fracture
A newborn baby’s skull consists of eight bones. As the baby grows, these eventually fuse together into one. Pressure on the skull from vacuum-assisted delivery can cause one or more of these bones to fracture. While not all skull fractures are serious, some could result in damage to the brain.
2. Intracranial hemorrhage
Applying suction to a baby’s head could damage the blood vessels there. This could cause an intracranial hemorrhage, which is the scientific name for bleeding inside the skull. Fortunately, this is a rare complication of vacuum-assisted delivery, but when it occurs, it can cause brain damage.
3. Subgaleal hematoma
A hematoma is a collection of partially clotted blood. During vacuum-assisted delivery, blood can collect in the subgaleal space under the baby’s scalp. This is a life-threatening situation because the blood that has collected is no longer circulating, meaning that the baby’s blood supply is low.
The incidence of subgaleal hematoma during cesarean section decreased when doctors started using suction cups made of soft plastic. Today, it is a rare but still possible occurrence.