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What is vacuum extraction?

Childbirth is a natural process, but it does not always proceed as expected. If your labor does not progress normally during vaginal childbirth, your doctor may recommend vacuum extraction to speed up the process. Also called vacuum-assisted delivery, vacuum extraction is an alternative to a cesarean section. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, you may still require a C-section if the attempt at vacuum-assisted delivery is unsuccessful.

During vacuum extraction, the doctor places a device on the baby’s head. This is a cup made of either a rigid or soft material equipped with a vacuum pump and a handle. As you push during a contraction, the doctor uses the device to guide the baby’s head out of the birth canal.

What are the risks of vacuum extraction?

While it is rare that vacuum extraction results in serious injuries to an infant, they can occur. Possible risks include skull fracture or intracranial hemorrhage, which is bleeding within the skull. Another significant risk to your baby is shoulder dystocia. This occurs when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal after the successful delivery of the head.

Vacuum-assisted delivery also poses risks to you. You may experience tearing of the lower genital tract or pain in the perineum. Placing the vacuum may require the doctor to surgically incise the skin between the vagina and the anus in a minor procedure called an episiotomy. The risks of an unassisted vaginal delivery are comparable to these.

When do doctors recommend vacuum extraction?

Doctors may recommend vacuum extraction in cases of prolonged labor. This occurs when the baby is not making significant progress down the birth canal despite your efforts at pushing. Your doctor may also recommend vacuum-assisted delivery if you have a condition that limits how long you can safely labor or the baby’s heartbeat indicates a problem requiring immediate delivery.