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MoonDragon's Women's Health Procedures Information

For "Informational Use Only".
For more detailed information, contact your health care provider
about options that may be available for your specific situation.

  • The Essential Components of the Vacuum Extractor
  • Review For Conditions of Use
  • Vacuum Extraction Procedure
  • Vacuum Extraction Use Tips
  • Vacuum Extraction Failure
  • Vacuum Extraction & Symphysiotomy
  • Complications


    vacuum extractor


    The vacuume extractor has many advantages in the confined space of the reduced pelves common in many communities. Unlike the forceps, the vacuum cup takes up no space in a mother's birth canal and it is difficult to injure her accidently. Her baby's head can rotate spontaneously at the optimum level, and it it is deflexed, vacuum extraction will often flex it. Most importantly, a vacuum extractor is less likely to damage the baby's brain than forceps. The indications for its use in a hospital are somewhat broader than those in a health center.


    These indications only apply if the absolute requirements below are met:

  • For vacuum extraction, the baby must be in a head down, vertex presentation. You should know where the occiput is, because traction will be more effective if you can put the cup there. Vacuum extraction is contraindicated in a malpresentation, CPD and a dead baby, where outlet forceps or a destructive operation would be safer.

  • Vacuum extraction is only used if the baby is a term fetus. Vacuum extraction is contraindicated with a premature infant because of the risk of intracerebral hemorrhage.

  • Vacuum extraction is only used if the baby is engaged in the pelvis with the head at least at 0 station or no more than 2/5 above symphysis pubis. The baby's head must be 1.5 or less above his mother's pelvic brim. Always determine station in relation to her pelvic brim, and not to her ischial spines. If her pelvis is shallow and there is much caput, you may be able to feel it below the spines before it is engaged.

  • Vacuum extraction is only used when the cervix is fully dilated. Some practitioners apply it at 8 cm, but this can cause tears, and should never be tried if there is any CPD (cephalopelvic disproportion). The application of vacuum extraction before full dilation is rarely indicated and is usually dangerous with the exception of fetal distress in multips without CPD, fetal distress of a second twin with a cephalic presentation when the cervix has closed again - the height of the head does not matter in this situation, provided you can get the cup on the occiput. it may be applied before full dilation with prolapse of the cord in multips.

  • Vacuum extraction may be considered only if there are good uterine contractions, which means 3 to 4 every 10 minutes lasting over 40 seconds with a cephalic presentation. The head must descend with contractions and bearing down efforts. The cooperation by a mother who is fully conscious is desirable, but not essential. However, it is contraindicated for an exceptionally uncooperative mother.

  • Vacuum extraction may be used when there is a delay in the second stage of labor. More than an hour in a primigravida and 30 minutes in a multigravida, especially delay caused by malrotation of the occiput. Do not apply a vacuum extractor for delay in the first stage. If this does nto respond to oxytocin, it is likely to be do to CPD. If the mother was more than 3 hours dilating from 7 to 10 cm on the partogram, or her fundal height is greater than 40 cm (suggesting a large baby), expect difficulty. The vacuum extraction would be done in a surgical theater and preparation for a cesarean section is done.

  • Vacuum extraction may be used to reduce maternal effort if a mother has cardiac failure or gestational hypertension.

  • assorted vacuum extraction cups


    Vacuum Assisted Delivery Systems have become the popular choice for operative vaginal deliveries. There are a variety of soft cup designs to accommodate different clinician preferences. These soft cups offer a safer, less traumatic alternative to forceps when operative assistance is necessary to complete a vaginal delivery. Extraction cups are available in both bell-shaped and mushroom-shaped designs. The bell-shaped cup designs offer the optimal range of allowable tractive force to guard against potential fetal injury.


    The Tender Touch® Ultra disposable vacuum cups offer the benefits of a bell-shaped design, along with a smooth, soft silicone construction that helps minimize maternal and fetal trauma. Secure tractive capability for consistent control. Flexibility of cup which promotes easier insertion and placement. Improved visibility through cup which aids in early detection of fetal scalp trauma or maternal tissue entrapment. Unique flared edge to protect against disengagement. "Posi-Grip" four-finger handle for optimum leverage and control. 65 ml fluid trap to reduce risk of pump contamination. Pre-packaged sterile and disposable. Compatibility with existing manual and electric vacuum pumps. No latex or latex by-products.


    The Secure Cup™ is a thermoplastic rubber cup that allows excellent adhesion to the fetal scalp with reduced risk of injury compared to other mushroom cups. The polyurethane Flex Cup™ provides a flexible stem that won't facilitate unwanted fetal head rotation. Constructed of less rigid materials and conveniently pre-packaged sterile and disposable. Compatibility with existing manual and electric vacuum pumps. No latex or latex by-products.


    When multiple use of a vacuum cup is economically desirable, Velvet Touch™ reusable vacuum extraction cups are available. They have smooth, soft silicone construction that helps minimize maternal and fetal trauma with secure tractive capability for consistent control. They are autoclavable and compatible with all vacuum sources with no latex or latex by-products.


    Precalibrated, color-coded gauges. Vacuum release trigger for one-handed operation. Autoclavable with patented design.

    This product information was obtained from Vacuum extraction systems products are available from Utah Medical Products, Inc

    vacuum extraction delivery


  • Check all connections and test the vacuum on a gloved hand.

  • Provide emotional support and encouragement. If necessary, use a pudendal block.

  • Assess the position of the fetal head by feeling the sagittal suture line and the fontanelles.

  • Identify the posterior fontanelle.

  • fetal skull landmarks
    Landmarks of the Fetal Skull.

  • Apply the largest cup that will fit, with the center of the cup over the flexion point, 1 cm anterior to the posterior fontanelle. This placement will promote flexion, descent and auto-rotation with traction.

  • applying vacuum
    Applying the Malmstrom Cup.

  • An episiotomy may be needed for proper placement at this time. If an episiotomy is not necessary for placement, delay the episiotomy until the head stretches the perineum or the perineum interferes with the axis of traction. This will avoid unnecessary blood loss.

  • Check the application. Ensure there is no maternal soft tissue (cervix or vagina) within the rim.

  • With the pump, create a vacuum of 0.2 kg/cm2 negative pressure and check the application.

  • Increase the vacuum to 0.8 kg/cm2 and check the application.

  • After maximum negative pressure, start traction in the line of the pelvic axis and perpendicular to the cup. If the fetal head is tilted to one side or not flexed well, traction should be directed in a line that will try to correct the tilt or deflexion of the head (i.e. to one side or the other, not necessarily in the midline).

  • With each contraction, apply traction in a line perpendicular to the plane of the cup rim. Wearing high-level disinfected gloves, place a finger on the scalp next to the cup during traction to assess potential slippage and descent of the vertex.

  • applying vacuum
    Applying Traction.

  • Between contractions check:
    • Fetal heart rate.

    • Application of the cup.

    vacuum cup placement


  • Never use the cup to actively rotate the baby's head. Rotation of the baby's head will occur with traction.
  • The first pulls help to find the proper direction for pulling.
  • Do not continue to pull between contractions and expulsive efforts.
  • With progress, and in the absence of fetal distress, continue the "guiding" pulls for a maximum of 30 minutes.

  • The Rule of THREE PULLS applies when using vacuum extraction.

    In an emergency situation where vacuum extration is applied before full dilation, the Rule of Three Pulls still applies, but two 'extra pulls' are allowed to reach full dilatation; then you must deliver her in three pulls.


  • Vacuum extraction failed if:
    • The head does not advance with each pull.

    • The fetus is undelivered after three pulls with no descent, or after 30 minutes.

    • The cup slips off the head twice at the proper direction of pull with a maximum negative pressure.

  • Every application should be considered a trial of vacuum extraction. Do not persist if there is no descent with every pull.
  • If vacuum extraction fails, use vacuum extraction in combination with symphysiotomy (see below) or perform cesarean section.


  • Vacuum extraction may be used in combination with symphysiotomy in the following circumstances:
    • The head is at least at -2 station or no more than 3/5 palpable above the symphysis pubis.
    • Cesarean section is not feasible or immediately available.
    • The provider is experienced and proficient in symphysiotomy.
    • Vacuum extraction alone has failed or is expected to fail.
    • There is no major degree of disproportion.

    vacuum extraction injuries


    Complications usually result from not observing the conditions of application or from continuing efforts beyond the time limits stated above.

    vacuum head trauma


  • Localized scalp edema (artificial caput or chignon) under the vacuum cup is harmless and disappears in a few hours.
  • Cephalo-hematoma requires observation and usually will clear in 3 to 4 weeks.
  • Scalp abrasions (common and harmless) and lacerations may occur. Clean and examine lacerations to determine if sutures are necessary. Necrosis is extremely rare.
  • Intracranial bleeding is extremely rare and requires immediate intensive neonatal care.

  • vacuum bruised scalp


  • Tears of the genital tract may occur. Examine the woman carefully and repair any tears to the cervix or vagina or repair episiotomy.


    Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Winter; 2(1): 5–17. PMCID: PMC2672989
    Unzila A Ali, MD and Errol R Norwitz, MD, PhD
    Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT


    Approximately 5 percent (1 in 20) of all deliveries in the United States are operative vaginal deliveries. The past 20 years have seen a progressive shift away from the use of forceps in favor of the vacuum extractor as the instrument of choice. This article reviews in detail the indications, contraindications, patient selection criteria, choice of instrument, and technique for vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery. The use of vacuum extraction at the time of cesarean delivery will also be discussed. With vacuum extraction becoming increasingly popular, it is important that obstetric care providers are aware of the maternal and neonatal risks associated with such deliveries and of the options available to effect a safe and expedient delivery.

    Key words: Operative vaginal delivery, Vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery, Vacuum

    Operative vaginal delivery refers to the application of either forceps or a vacuum device to assist the mother in effecting vaginal delivery of a fetus. The incidence of operative vaginal delivery in the United States is currently estimated at around 5 percent, or approximately 1 in 20 deliveries, although there are large geographic differences in the rates of operative vaginal delivery across the country. The lowest rates of instrumental vaginal delivery (less than 5 percent) are seen in the Northeast and the highest rates (20 to 25 percent) are in the South. Although the overall rate of operative vaginal delivery has been declining, the proportion of vacuum-assisted deliveries has been increasing and now accounts for almost 4 times the rate of forceps-assisted vaginal births.


    The first instrumental deliveries were performed to extract fetuses from women at high risk of dying due to prolonged or obstructed labor. In these cases, saving the mother’s life took precedence over possible harm to the fetus. With the development of safer techniques for vaginal extraction, however, the focus of these procedures has changed dramatically and the major indications for operative vaginal delivery in modern obstetric practice are to safeguard the wellbeing of the fetus. Vacuum extraction was first described in 1705 by Dr. James Yonge, an English surgeon, several decades before the invention of the obstetric forceps. However, it did not gain widespread use until the 1950s, when it was popularized in a series of studies by the Swedish obstetrician Dr. Tage Malmström. By the 1970s, the vacuum extractor had almost completely replaced forceps for assisted vaginal deliveries in most northern European countries, but its popularity in many English-speaking countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, was limited. By 1992, however, the number of vacuum assisted deliveries surpassed the number of forceps deliveries in the United States, and by the year 2000 approximately 66 percent of operative vaginal deliveries were by vacuum.


    An operative vaginal delivery should only be performed if there is an appropriate indication. In 2000, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published guidelines on the use of operative vaginal delivery (both forceps and vacuum), which included a list of accepted indications for such procedures. These are summarized in Table 1. It should be made clear that none of these indications are absolute because the option of cesarean delivery is always available.



    Prolonged second stage of labor

    In nulliparous women, this is defined as a lack of progress for 3 hours with regional anesthesia or 2 hours without anesthesia. In multiparous women, it refers to lack of progress for 2 hours with regional anesthesia or 1 hour without anesthesia.

    Nonreassuring fetal testing

    Suspicion of immediate or potential fetal compromise (nonreassuring fetal heart rate pattern, abruption) is an indication for operative vaginal delivery when an expeditious delivery can be readily accomplished.

    Elective shortening of the second stage of labor

    Vacuum can be used to electively shorten the second stage of labor if pushing is contraindicated because of maternal cardiovascular or neurologic disease.

    Maternal exhaustion

    Largely subjective and not well defined.
    Data from The American College of Obstetricians and gynecologists.

    Earlier data suggested that fetal morbidity was higher when the second stage of labor (defined as the time from full cervical dilatation to delivery of the fetus) exceeded 2 hours, irrespective of fetal testing. As such, obstetric care providers were encouraged to expedite delivery once the second stage of labor was noted to be prolonged (defined in Table 1). More recent data collected after routine use of epidural analgesia, however, have disputed this assertion and have shown that continued expectant management of women with prolonged second stage of labor is a safe and reasonable option if fetal testing is reassuring. As such, prolonged second stage of labor - although still an indication - should no longer be regarded as an absolute indication for operative delivery. The risks to the mother of a prolonged second stage of labor include severe perineal injury (defined as a third or fourth degree perineal laceration) and postpartum hemorrhage, and appear to be associated more strongly with obstetric instrumentation rather than the length of the second stage of labor.

    Suspected fetal compromise in the form of a nonreassuring fetal heart rate tracing is perhaps the most common and widely accepted indication for operative vaginal delivery, although the interpretation of fetal heart rate tracings is subjective and highly variable. Women with contraindications to Valsalva manuever may benefit from elective operative vaginal delivery. This includes women with select cardiac or neurologic diseases, such as some women with New York Heart Association (NYHA) class III/IV cardiac disease and uncorrected intracerebral vascular malformations. Operative vaginal delivery may also be required if there is inadequate maternal expulsive efforts, such as women with spinal cord injuries or neuromuscular diseases. Maternal exhaustion is another commonly used indicator for operative vaginal delivery, but is not well defined and is highly subjective. As such, providers should make every effort to avoid using this as the sole indication for operative vaginal delivery.


    A number of clinical situations exist in which operative vaginal delivery should not be attempted because of the potential risks to the fetus (Table 2). For example, an underlying fetal condition such as a documented bleeding diathesis or bone demineralizing disease will predispose the fetus to major injury including intraventricular hemorrhage and skull fracture and, as such, should be regarded as an absolute contraindication to operative vaginal delivery. Such deliveries should also not be attempted if the fetal vertex is not engaged in the maternal pelvis, if the cervix is incompletely dilated, if the fetal membranes are not ruptured, if the fetal position (defined as the relationship of a nominated site of the presenting part to a denominating location on the maternal pelvis) is not known, if there is suspected cephalopelvic disproportion, or if there is fetal malpresentation (such as breech, brow, or face presentation). Vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery should not be performed prior to 34 weeks of gestation because of the risk of fetal intraventricular hemorrhage. Prior scalp sampling or multiple attempts at fetal scalp electrode placement are also relative contraindications to vacuum extraction because these procedures may increase the risk of cephalohematoma or external bleeding from the scalp wound.



  • Underlying fetal disorder
  • - Fetal bleeding disorders (eg, hemophilia, alloimmune thrombocytopenia)
    - Fetal demineralizing diseases (eg, osteogenesis imperfecta)
  • Failure to fulfill all the requirements for operative vaginal delivery
  • - Incomplete dilatation of the cervix
    - Intact fetal membranes
    - Unengaged vertex
  • Abnormalities of labor
  • - Fetal malpresentation (eg, breech, transverse lie, brow, face)
    - Suspected cephalopelvic disproportion (CPD)
  • Estimated gestational age less than 34 weeks or estimated fetal weight less than 2500 grams
  • Failure to obtain informed consent from the patient


  • Suspected fetal macrosomia (defined as an estimated fetal weight of equal to or greater than 4500 grams)
  • Uncertainty about fetal position.
  • Inadequate anesthesia.
  • Prior scalp sampling or multiple attempts at fetal scalp electrode placement.

  • Data from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

    There is no consensus regarding minimum and maximum estimated fetal weights that preclude operative vaginal delivery. Performance of an operative vaginal delivery in a fetus with suspected macrosomia is supported by ACOG, but should be performed with caution given the possible increased risk of fetal injury and of shoulder dystocia, especially when the second stage of labor is prolonged. Because of the risk of intraventricular hemorrhage, vacuum extraction is not recommended in fetuses with an estimated weight less than 2500 grams (which corresponds to less than 34 weeks of gestation).


    Informed consent (either verbal or written) is required prior to performing an operative vaginal delivery. Alternative management strategies should be discussed and will vary depending on the clinical circumstances and on the indication for the operative vaginal delivery. For example, if the indication is a prolonged second stage of labor in the setting of reassuring fetal testing, alternatives to an operative vaginal delivery include continued expectant management, oxytocin augmentation, and cesarean delivery. Because existing data suggest that most women with a prolonged second stage will ultimately deliver vaginally and that a second stage exceeding 2 hours in duration does not adversely affect neonatal outcome, continued expectant management is reasonable. Changes in maternal positioning, a reduction in neuraxial anesthesia, increased emotional support to the patient, and "laboring down" (delayed pushing) in the second stage have all been shown to increase the likelihood of a successful vaginal delivery. If such conservative interventions fail to achieve a vaginal delivery, either an operative vaginal delivery or a cesarean delivery can be performed. If the patient does not meet criteria for an operative vaginal delivery or if the operator does not feel comfortable performing the procedure, then a cesarean delivery should be recommended.


    A series of criteria all need to be fulfilled before an operative vaginal delivery can be attempted. These are summarized in Table 3. The cervix should be fully dilated and the membranes ruptured. The head must be engaged in the maternal pelvis, meaning that the biparietal diameter must have passed through the pelvic inlet. This is best assessed on abdominal examination using the Leopold's maneuvers, although confirmation of fetal station (defined as the leading bony edge of the fetal presenting part relative to the maternal ischial spines) of more than 0/+5 on transvaginal examination can also be used to document engagement. A large fetus, excessive molding of the fetal skull bones, a deflexed attitude (extension) of the fetal head, and asynclitism (lateral flexion of the fetal head) can make it appear as though the vertex is engaged when the leading bony edge is actually above the level of the ischial spines. Fetal lie, presentation, and position should all be documented. The type of operative vaginal delivery is classified according to the station and the degree of rotation of the fetal head within the pelvis (Table 4). If the position is unclear on clinical examination - which may be seen in upwards of 25 percent of cases in which operative vaginal delivery is being considered - an intrapartum ultrasound can be done to confirm fetal position. Prior to attempting an operative vaginal delivery, clinical pelvimetry should be performed with documentation of adequate mid and outlet pelvic dimensions. The estimated fetal weight should also be documented.



    Adequate analgesia
    Vertex presentation
    Cervix fully dilated

    An experienced operator who is fully aquainted with the use of the instrument

    Patient in the lithotomy position

    The fetal head must be engaged in the pelvis

    Membranes ruptured

    Ability to monitor fetal well-being continously

    Bladder empty

    The position of the fetal head must be known with certainty

    No placenta previa

    The capability to perform an emergency cesarean delivery if required

    Clinical pelvimetry must be adequate in dimension and size to facilitate an atraumatic delivery

    The station of the fetal head must be equal to or greater than 0/+5

    The attitude of the fetal head and the presence of caput succedaneum and/or molding should be noted



    Verbal or written consent obtained

    The estimated fetal weight must be documented (ideally 2500 to 4500 grams)


    Data from Norwitz ER et al.



  • Scalp is visible at the introitus without separating the labia.
  • Fetal skull has reached the level of the pelvic floor.
  • Sagittal suture is in the direct anteroposterior diameter or in the right or left occiput anterior or posterior position.
  • Fetal head is at or on the perineum.
  • Rotation is equal to or less than 45 degrees.
  • Low

  • Leading point of the fetal skull (station) is station +2/+5 or more but has not as yet reached the pelvic floor.
  • Rotation is equal to or less than 45 degrees.
  • Rotation is greater than 45 degrees.
  • Midpelvic

  • The head is engaged in the pelvis but the presenting part is above +2 station.
  • High

    (Not included in this classification)
    Data from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

    Once the obstetric care provider has confirmed that the patient is an appropriate candidate for an operative vaginal delivery, informed consent should be obtained. This can be either verbal or written. Either way, the potential risks, benefits, and alternatives to operative vaginal delivery should be discussed, and the discussion should be clearly documented in the medical record.


    Selection of the appropriate instrument depends on both the clinical situation and the operator’s level of comfort and experience with the specific instrument. Factors that need to be considered include the availability of the instrument in question, the degree of maternal analgesia, and an appreciation of the risks and benefits of each of the individual instruments.

    Published data suggest that forceps deliveries are associated with more maternal morbidity, whereas vacuum devices cause more neonatal injury. For example, a meta-analysis of 10 clinical trials concluded that vacuum-assisted deliveries were associated with significantly less maternal trauma than forceps, including a lower rate of severe perineal injury (odds ratio [OR], 0.41; 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.33–0.50). Indeed, the shift toward vacuum-assisted deliveries over forceps has led to a significant reduction in the incidence of severe perineal injuries in the mother over the last 10 years. In this meta-analysis, vacuum devices were also associated with a reduced need for general and regional anesthesia, and with less postpartum pain than forceps. In contrast, this same review showed that forceps deliveries have a lower risk of scalp injury and cephalohematoma than vacuum. Additional advantages of forceps are that they can be used safely in premature infants, they can be used to effect rotation of the fetal head (which is not true of vacuum), and they are less likely to detach from the fetal head. Although vacuum deliveries are more likely to fail, the overall cesarean delivery rate is still lower when the vacuum device is used rather than forceps. The reason for this is not entirely clear. It may have to do with patient selection or with the fact that, in years past, a failed vacuum delivery was typically followed by an attempted forceps delivery, whereas a failed forceps was more likely to be followed by a cesarean delivery.

    Although the decision of which instrument to use is dependent in large part on the preference of the individual care provider, there are certain clinical situations where one instrument may be preferred over another. For example, delivery of an occiput-posterior vertex with molding is best effected using forceps, whereas a vacuum extraction would be the instrument of choice when performing an outlet procedure on an occiput-anterior vertex in a woman with minimal analgesia.


    Having decided to perform a vacuum extraction, the operator must decide which cup to use. The original vacuum device developed in the 1950s by the Swedish obstetrician Dr. Tage Malmström was a disc-shaped stainless steel cup attached to a metal chain for traction. Due to technical problems and lack of experience with this instrument, vacuum devices did not gain popularity in the United States until the introduction of the disposable cups in the 1980s. There are 2 main types of disposable cups, which can be made of plastic, polyethylene, or silicone. The soft cup is a pliable funnel- or bell-shaped cup, which is the most common type used in the United States. The rigid cup is a firm mushroom-shaped cup (M cup) similar to the original metal disc-shaped cup, and is available in 3 sizes (40, 50, and 60). Commercially available suction cups are summarized in Table 5.


    Soft Cups
    Gentle Vac™
    (OB Scientific, Germantown, WI)
    60 mm
    Soft Rubber
    Kiwi ProCup®
    (Clinical Innovations, Murray, UT)
    65 mm
    Soft Plastic
    Mityvac MitySoft Bell®
    (Cooper-Surgical, Trumball, CT)
    60 mm
    Soft Silicone
    Secure Cup™
    (Utah Medical, Midvale, UT)
    63 mm
    Silc Cup
    50 - 60 mm
    Silicone Rubber
    Soft Touch™
    (Utah Medical)
    60 mm
    Soft Polyethylene
    Tender Touch®
    (Utah Medical)
    60 mm
    Soft Silicone
    (Utah Medical)
    65 mm
    Soft Silicone
    Rigid Anterior Cups
    Flex Cup™ (Utah Medical)
    60 mm
    Kiwi OmniCup® (Clinical Innovations)
    50 mm
    Rigid Plastic
    Malmström (Dickinson Healthcare, Hungerford, UK)
    40 - 60 mm
    Mityvac M-Style® (CooperSurgical)
    50 mm
    Rigid Polyethylene
    Rigid Posterior Cups
    Bird posterior cup
    40 - 60 mm
    Kiwi OmniCup® (Clinical Innovations)
    50 mm
    Rigid Plastic
    Mityvac M-Select® (CooperSurgical)
    50 mm
    Rigid Polyethylene
    Adapted from Greenberg JA.

    By creating a mechanical as well as vacuum link, the rigid mushroom cup is able to generate more traction force than the soft cup. A meta-analysis of 1375 women in 9 trials comparing soft and rigid vacuum extractor cups demonstrated that soft cups were more likely to fail to achieve a vaginal delivery because of more frequent detachments (pop-offs) (OR, 1.65; 95 percent CI, 1.19-2.29), but were associated with fewer scalp injuries (OR, 0.45; 95 percent CI, 0.15-0.60) and no increased risk of maternal perineal injury. By example, the risk of scalp laceration with the rigid Kiwi OmniCup® (Clinical Innovations, Murray, UT) was reported to be 14.1 percent compared with 4.5 percent utilizing a standard vacuum device (P = .006). These and other authors concluded that hand-held soft bell cups should be considered for more straightforward occiput-anterior deliveries, and that rigid M cups should be reserved for more complicated deliveries such as those involving larger infants, significant caput succedaneum (scalp edema), occiput-posterior presentation, or asynclitism. Three randomized trials have compared the standard vacuum cup to the Kiwi OmniCup device. Failure rates for the Kiwi OmniCup were generally higher at 30 to 34 percent as compared with 19 to 21 percent for the standard vacuum device, although not all studies confirmed this association. The reason for the higher failure rate appears to be more frequent detachments.


    A successful vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery is dependent on several factors, including patient selection and a number of technical considerations. The goal is correct placement of the vacuum cup on the fetal scalp, application of a vacuum of up to 0.8 kg/cm2 to suck part of the scalp into the cup and create an artificial caput succedaneum (known as a chignon), and then application of a traction force to the fetus in concert with uterine contractions to expedite delivery. The bladder should be emptied immediately prior to the procedure, and adequate analgesia should be provided. The maternal and fetal status should be assessed continuously throughout the delivery. Most importantly, the obstetric provider should be willing to abandon the procedure if there is no descent of the vertex or in the event of complications, and access to emergent cesarean delivery should be immediately available at all times.

    Correct placement of the suction cup on the fetal scalp is critical to success of the procedure. The suction cup should be placed symmetrically astride the sagittal suture at the median flexion point (also known as the pivot point), which is 2-cm anterior to the posterior fontanelle or 6-cm posterior to the anterior fontanelle. Extreme care should be taken to avoid placement directly over the fontanelle. Correct placement will facilitate flexion, descent, and rotation of the vertex when traction is applied and will minimize injury to both the fetus and soft tissues of the birth canal. After the cup is applied, the circumference of the cup should be swept to ensure that no vaginal or cervical tissues have been inadvertently trapped within the vacuum cup. The placement of the cup on the scalp should be again confirmed. Suction can then be applied. Vacuum pressures should be raised initially to 100 to 150 mm Hg to maintain the cup’s position before being increased further to facilitate traction.

    In the past, a slow incremental increase in vacuum pressure was recommended before applying traction, starting at a negative pressure and increasing gradually at 0.2 kg/cm2 every 2 minutes to achieve a pressure of approximately 0.8 kg/cm2 (alternatively expressed as 500-600 mm Hg, 500-600 torr, 23.6 in Hg, or 11.6 lbs/in2) within 8 to 10 minutes. The explanation given was that this slow incremental approach would allow for a more firm attachment of the vacuum cup to the fetal head and, thereby, a lower failure rate. However, there is no evidence that such an approach is associated with an improved rate of successful vaginal delivery. In fact, a randomized control trial of 94 women comparing stepwise versus rapid pressure application demonstrated that the rapid technique was associated with a significant reduction in the duration of vacuum extraction by an average of 6 minutes without adversely impacting fetal and maternal outcome. A vacuum pressure of 0.6 to 0.8 kg/cm2 (500-600 mm Hg) and an artificial caput succedaneum can be achieved in a linear, rapid fashion in less than 2 minutes.

    The absolute safe traction force for vacuum extraction is unknown. However, because traction force varies with cup size, suction pressure, and altitude as well as the individual clinical circumstances, it is reasonable and practical to rely on the suction pressure that is displayed on all the commercially available devices. Once the desired pressure has been achieved, sustained downward traction should be applied along the pelvic curve using 2 hands. The dominant hand exerts traction while the nondominant hand monitors the progress of descent and prevents cup detachment by applying counter pressure directly to the vacuum cup. The traction should be applied in concert with uterine contractions and maternal expulsive efforts. An observational study of 119 vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries using a device with a traction force indicator revealed that a traction force of 11.5 kg (450 mm Hg) was sufficient to achieve vaginal delivery in at least 80 percent of cases. Moreover, all deliveries were achieved with a maximum traction force of 13.5 kg (500-600 mm Hg), although, at these higher levels, neonatal scalp abrasions and cephalohematomas were more common. Traction should be discontinued when the contraction ends and the mother stops pushing. Between contractions, suction pressure can be maintained or reduced to lower than 200 mm Hg. There appears to be no difference in fetal morbidity with either regimen. As it flexes and descends, the fetal head may rotate, resulting in passive rotation of the handle of the vacuum. Although this is to be expected, the accoucheur should at no time attempt to manually rotate the fetal head with the vacuum. This will lead to the classic cookie-cutter injury in the fetal scalp. Descent of the vertex should occur with each application of traction. Once the fetal head is seen to be crowning, the suction should be released, the cup removed, and the remainder of the delivery effected in the normal fashion.


    The decision to continue with operative vaginal delivery must be re-evaluated continuously during each step of the delivery. The maximum time to safely complete a vacuum extraction and the acceptable number of detachments is unknown. In an observational study of 393 singleton term pregnancies, 82 percent of successful deliveries were achieved within 1 to 3 pulls, and more than 3 pulls was associated with a 45 percent risk of neonatal trauma. Based on these and similar data, it is generally recommended that vacuum-assisted deliveries be achieved with no more than 3 sets of pulls and a maximum of 2 to 3 cup detachments (pop-offs). The total vacuum application time should be limited to 20 to 30 minutes. These recommendations are based more upon common sense and experience than scientific data as observational series have shown no long-term differences in neonatal outcome related to these variables.


    Vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries may fail because of poor patient selection (such as attempting vacuum extraction in pregnancies complicated by cephalopelvic disproportion) or errors in application or technique. For example, selection of the incorrect cup size, accidental inclusion of maternal soft tissues within the cup, and/or incorrect placement of the vacuum cup, resulting in worsening asynclitism (lateral traction) or de-flexion (extension) of the fetal head, may all contribute to failed vacuum attempts. Failure to apply traction in concert with maternal pushing efforts or traction along the incorrect plane may also result in failed vacuum extraction. To avoid fetal injury, the obstetric care provider should not be overly committed to achieving a vaginal delivery and should be willing to abandon the procedure if it is not progressing well. Delay may increase the risk of neonatal or maternal morbidity. The ability to perform an emergency cesarean delivery should always be at hand.


    There is substantial evidence that instrumental deliveries increase maternal morbidity, including perineal pain at delivery, pain in the immediate postpartum period, perineal lacerations, hematomas, blood loss and anemia, urinary retention, and long-term problems with urinary and fecal incontinence. A randomized trial of 118 nulliparous term deliveries showed significant maternal soft tissue trauma in 48.9 percent of forceps deliveries, 36.1 percent of deliveries using the silastic vacuum extractor, and 21.6 percent of deliveries using the Mityvac® vacuum extractor (CooperSurgical, Trumball, CT) deliveries. Another review of over 50,000 vaginal deliveries at the University of Miami reported that the rates of third and fourth degree perineal lacerations were higher in vacuum-assisted (10 percent) and forceps deliveries (20 percent) compared with spontaneous vaginal deliveries (2 percent). The highest rates of maternal perineal trauma are associated with deliveries involving rotations larger than 45 degrees and with midforceps procedures. The risk of maternal trauma is higher for fetuses in the occiput-posterior position. For example, a retrospective cohort study of over 390 vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries found that an occiput-posterior position was associated with a 4-fold increased risk of anal sphincter injury compared with an occiput-anterior position, which persisted after controlling for multiple covariables.

    Urinary and anal dysfunction (including incontinence, fistula formation, and pelvic organ prolapse) are additional risks of instrumental delivery that typically present months to years after delivery. A 5-year follow-up of a cohort of 228 women and children delivered by forceps or vacuum extractor as part of a previous randomized, controlled study reported that 47 percent experienced urinary incontinence, 44 percent reported bowel habit urgency, and 20 percent experienced loss of bowel control. There were no apparent differences between the types of instruments used and no noninstrumental spontaneous delivery control group.

    Maternal morbidity from instrumental deliveries is often compared with that of cesarean deliveries because this is the most likely alternative procedure. Compared with cesarean delivery, operative vaginal delivery is associated with less short-term maternal morbidity. In a retrospective review of 358 midcavity operative vaginal deliveries and 486 cesarean deliveries, febrile morbidity was significantly lower in women delivered vaginally (25 percent vs 4 percent) and all thromboembolic events occurred in women delivered by cesarean. However, long-term data suggest that laboring women delivered with the use of obstetric instruments have a higher rate of urinary incontinence at 1 and 3 years postpartum compared with laboring women delivered by cesarean.


    Vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries can cause significant fetal morbidity, including scalp lacerations, cephalohematomas, subgaleal hematomas, intracranial hemorrhage, facial nerve palsies, hyperbilirubinemia, and retinal hemorrhage. The risk of such complications is estimated at around 5 percent. Cephalohematomas, bleeding into the fetal scalp due to separation from the underlying structures, are more common with vacuum than with forceps deliveries (14-16 percent vs 2 percent, respectively). The incidence of subgaleal hematomas after vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery ranges from 26 to 45 per 1000 deliveries. A cross-sectional study evaluating the incidence of neonatal retinal hemorrhage found that the incidence was higher for vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries (75 percent) compared with spontaneous vaginal (33 percent) and cesarean deliveries (7 percent). By far the most serious complication is intracranial hemorrhage. A California-based review of over 580,000 term singleton deliveries by Towner and colleagues reported an incidence of intracranial hemorrhage of 1 in 860 for vacuum extraction compared with 1 in 1900 for women who delivered spontaneously. The incidence was the highest (1 in 280) in women delivered by combined forceps and vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries.

    Pediatricians should be notified whenever an operative vaginal delivery has been attempted and whether it was successful because serious morbidity can present several hours after birth. For this reason, such neonates should be closely observed. A large prospective, observational, cohort study conducted in the Netherlands found that all vacuum-related injuries in term neonates were evident within 10 hours of birth. The authors concluded that neonates may be discharged 10 or more hours after vacuum delivery if no complications are evident.

    In 1998, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public health advisory to inform individuals that fetal complications including subgaleal hematomas and intracranial hemorrhage had been associated with vacuum extraction. In support of their assertion, the FDA identified 12 deaths and 9 serious complications reported among infants exposed to vacuum-assisted devices between 1994 and 1998, a rate that was 5-fold higher than that reported in the previous 11 years. The FDA advised caution and offered a series of recommendations for the appropriate and safe use of vacuum extractor devices. Specifically, they recommended that operators refrain from rocking movements and from the application of torque (rotation). They advised instead that providers use steady traction in the line of the birth canal. They also stressed the importance of notifying pediatricians that a vacuum device had been applied so that the neonates could be monitored more closely during the first hours and days of life.

    Long-term sequelae from vacuum-associated injuries such as intracranial hemorrhage and neuromuscular injury are uncommon. For example, a 9-month follow-up study of children randomized at term to vacuum versus forceps delivery found no significant differences in head circumference, weight, head circumference-to-weight ratio, testing of vision and hearing, and hospital readmission rates. Vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery also does not appear to adversely impact long-term cognitive development. A 10-year follow-up evaluation of 295 children delivered at term by vacuum extraction and 302 control patients delivered by spontaneous vaginal delivery showed no differences in fine- and gross-motor control, perceptual integration, and behavioral maturity between the 2 groups.


    A number of clinical controversies still surround vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery. These are discussed briefly below.

    Sequential Attempts at Instrumental Vaginal Delivery

    ACOG does not generally support multiple attempts at vaginal delivery using different instruments because of concerns about a higher rate of maternal and neonatal injury. Initial small clinical studies failed to demonstrate any adverse effects from combined or sequential vacuum and forceps deliveries, but larger studies suggest otherwise. The previously mentioned study by Towner and colleagues reviewed the mode of delivery and subsequent perinatal morbidity in 583,340 nulliparous term infants weighing 2500 to 4000 grams born in California between 1992 and 1994. The authors reported that the incidence of intracranial (subarachnoid, subdural, intraparenchymal, and/or intraventricular) hemorrhage was highest in infants delivered by both vacuum and forceps (1 in 256) as compared with infants born by forceps (1 in 664) or vacuum extraction alone (1 in 860), cesarean delivery in labor (1 in 907), spontaneous vaginal delivery (1 in 1900), and elective cesarean delivery prior to labor (1 in 2705). A similar study by Gardella and colleagues used Washington state birth certificate data linked to hospital discharge records to compare perinatal outcome in 3741 vaginal deliveries by both vacuum and forceps, 3741 vacuum deliveries, 3741 forceps deliveries, and 11,223 spontaneous vaginal deliveries. The study found that the sequential use of vacuum and forceps was associated with significantly increased risk of both neonatal and maternal injury.

    Not all cases of intracranial hemorrhage are symptomatic. A prospective study on 111 asymptomatic term infants who underwent routine magnetic resonance imaging shortly after delivery found that infants delivered after a failed vacuum extraction were the most likely to have a subdural hemorrhage with a rate of approximately 28 percent versus 6 percent after spontaneous vaginal delivery and 8 percent after a successful vacuum delivery.

    Routine Use of Antibiotics at the Time of Assisted Vaginal Delivery

    There is insufficient evidence to support the routine administration of antibiotic prophylaxis during assisted vaginal deliveries to prevent postpartum infection. A retrospective review of 393 women compared the rates of endomyometritis among women delivered by vacuum or forceps, and found no statistical difference in the rates of infection or the length of hospitalization among those who received prophylactic antibiotics and those who did not. As such, the routine use of antibiotic prophylaxis at the time of operative vaginal delivery cannot be recommended.

    Use of Episiotomy at the Time of Assisted Vaginal Delivery

    Episiotomy refers to a surgical incision in the perineum designed to enlarge the vagina and assist in childbirth. Although episiotomy has often accompanied operative vaginal delivery, recent evidence suggests that routine use of episiotomy with vacuum extraction is associated with an increased rather than decreased risk of perineal trauma and rectal injuries. Episiotomy during operative vaginal delivery also increases the incidence of postpartum hemorrhage and perineal infection, the need for stronger analgesia, and neonatal birth trauma. Moreover, pressure exerted by the soft tissues of the pelvic floor promotes flexion and rotation of the fetal head as it descends through the birth canal, which will not be possible if these tissues have been surgically transected. Taken together, these data suggest that routine episiotomy during vacuum extraction should be discouraged.

    Routine Use of Vacuum Extraction During Cesarean Delivery

    Vacuum devices can be used at the time of cesarean delivery to effect delivery of a high unengaged fetal head or as an alternative to extension of the hysterotomy when delivery of the vertex is difficult. Once the head is visible through the uterine incision, the vacuum device can be applied directly to the vertex and delivery achieved with gentle upward traction in concert with fundal pressure. Although such an approach may reduce the risk of extension of the original hysterotomy, it is not recommended for all cesarean deliveries.


    Approximately 5 percent (1 in 20) of all deliveries in the United States are operative vaginal deliveries. There is an increasing trend toward the use of vacuum devices rather than forceps for such procedures due, at least in part, to mounting data suggesting that vacuum extraction is associated with less maternal morbidity. To safely perform a vacuum delivery, it is important that the operator understand the indications and contraindications for this procedure. As a general rule, the soft (bell-shaped) cups should be used for uncomplicated occiput-anterior deliveries, whereas the rigid M cups should be reserved for more complicated deliveries such as those involving larger infants, significant caput succedaneum, occiput-posterior position, or asynclitism. Informed patient consent must be obtained. With appropriate training and careful patient selection, vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery can be a valuable tool in the armamentarium of the practicing obstetric care provider to effect delivery of an at-risk fetus. In all instances, the potential risks and benefits of a vacuum-assisted delivery must be weighed against the available alternative, including continued expectant management, oxytocin augmentation, and cesarean delivery.


  • An operative vaginal delivery should only be performed if there is an appropriate indication. No indication is absolute because the option of cesarean delivery is always available.
  • A number of clinical situations exist in which operative vaginal delivery should not be attempted because of the potential risks to the fetus.
  • A series of criteria all need to be fulfilled before an operative vaginal delivery can be attempted.
  • Selection of the appropriate instrument depends on both the clinical situation and the operator’s level of comfort and experience with the specific instrument.
  • Soft bell-shaped cups are associated with fewer scalp injuries and no increased risk of maternal perineal injury.
  • Soft bell-shaped cups should be considered for straightforward occiput-anterior deliveries and rigid M cups should be reserved for more complicated deliveries.
  • A successful vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery is dependent on several factors, including patient selection and a number of technical considerations. The goal is correct placement of the vacuum cup on the fetal scalp, application of a vacuum of up to 0.8 kg/cm2 to suck part of the scalp into the cup and create an artificial caput succedaneum (known as a chignon), and then application of a traction force to the fetus in concert with uterine contractions to expedite delivery.
  • There is evidence that instrumental deliveries increase maternal morbidity. The risk of maternal injury is much higher with forceps compared with vacuum-assist devices.
  • Vacuum-assisted vaginal deliveries can cause significant fetal morbidity. Pediatricians should be notified whenever an operative vaginal delivery has been attempted.


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  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Nutrition Basics Index
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  • MoonDragon's Health & Wellness: Therapy - Herbal Oils Index


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