Vacuum and Forceps Delivery Can Be Riskier Than C-Sections, Doctors Say

By  | 

No matter how much research or thought goes into a person’s birth plan, sometimes the baby doesn’t just slide out of there, and intervention is required. It’s not uncommon for labor to stall after hours, and hours, and hours of pushing and contractions, and sometimes it’s necessary for doctors to intervene with either a vacuum or forceps or a C-section to get the baby out safely. Now a new study indicates that C-sections may actually be safer for both mother and baby than delivery with vacuum or forceps, in cases where doctors have a choice between the two.

According to Today’s Parent, if the baby’s head is in the birth canal when labor stalls, doctors can opt to deliver the baby via C-section, or by using a vacuum or forceps. If there are signs of fetal distress, a doctor will usually go for the vacuum or forceps, because they’re much faster than arranging a C-section at that point.

If there aren’t signs of fetal distress, however, Today’s Parent says that new research from the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health indicates that babies born via vacuum or forceps delivery were actually more likely to suffer trauma or injury during delivery than babies delivered by C-section. That’s pretty scary, because those traumas can be severe. They can include brain bleeds, damage to the spleen and liver, and permanent brain damage. A few years ago a woman sued her mother’s OBGYN for using forceps during her delivery instead of the C-section her mother had requested, which caused her to suffer from paralysis in one arm.

On the maternal side, there’s also a greater risk of severe tearing–third- and fourth-degree vaginal tears, which are the kind that tear through the perineal muscles, anal sphincter, and possibly even to the rectum. 19 percent of women who had forceps deliveries experienced that kind of severe tearing.

Nothing is perfect, of course. C-sections involve scarring and increased risk of postpartum infection. Things can go wrong with any delivery. But a lot of the potential side-effects or risks of vacuum and forceps deliveries are not often discussed with pregnant patients. (I had a vacuum delivery, and nobody said a peep about any of this to me. I learned about it by googling “vacuum delivery” after I got home.) There are risks and benefits to both procedures, and these are good things to know, and to to talk about with one’s doctor before anybody gets to the delivery room.


(Image: iStockPhoto / Halfpoint)