During the course of labor, it is expected that every delivery will be vaginal. However there are times when this will be impossible based on the conditions of the baby or mother.

One in 20 deliveries are operative vaginal deliveries, meaning an instrument is used to help the physician or midwife and mother deliver the baby. Sometimes the mother is exhausted and can no longer push and an instrument is used to help her. In the past, these types of deliveries used instruments called forceps, however in the past 20 years; the vacuum extractor has become more popular.

What is a vacuum? A vacuum is an instrument that has a pump, a plastic cap and a handle attached to the cup to use as traction. When the mother pushes, the cap is attached to the baby’s head, suction is generated with the use of a machine and the provider gently pulls in order to deliver the baby. As with any instrument, precautions must be used in order to avoid injury to both the mother and infant. Excessive force, too much pulling or applying the cap wrong can cause serious injury to the infant including brain damage and death. As a pregnant mother, here are some rules that you should know about the vacuum:

  1. Your pregnancy should be greater than 34 weeks
  2. No more than 2 “pop-offs” should occur during the procedure.  A “pop-off” means there is a sudden loss of pressure during the procedure which increases the risk of scalp and brain to the baby
  3. The procedure should not last more than 20 minutes
  4. The bladder should be empty in order to avoid injury
  5. The fetus should be low in the pelvis
  6. The fetal tracing should be monitored continuously during the process
  7. The cervix should be completely dilated, meaning 10 centimeters
  8. The fetus should be in the head down position
  9. Informed consent should be obtained which describes the risks involved  before the procedure is done
  10. The procedure should not be attempted if the baby is suspected to weigh more than 9 pounds

When selecting a midwife or physician for prenatal care, make sure you ask about their experience regarding performing vacuum deliveries.

Remember, a healthy pregnancy doesn’t just happen. It takes a smart mother who knows what to do.