What is Instrument Assisted Delivery?

Why Doctors Need Instruments for Deliveries 


When a baby becomes lodged in the birth canal and the mother is unable to push any further, the delivery doctor may attempt to pull the baby out. If the doctor cannot use their hands because the baby is still too far up the birth canal, they may decide to use an instrument to help. With a delivery instrument, a doctor can reach the baby, grasp his head, and pull him the rest of the way out. The doctor may use either forceps or a vacuum extractor to aid in the delivery for the following reasons: 

  • The baby is stuck in the birth canal 
  • The baby begins to experience fetal distress, and the heart rate becomes concerning 
  • The mother is instructed not to push as a safety precaution

Types of Operative Vaginal Delivery 


Two types of operative vaginal delivery methods include the use of forceps and vacuum-assisted deliveries. In a forceps delivery, a metal tool is used with two curved arms resembling tongs. The doctor uses the forceps by sliding the tool around the child’s head and gently pulling. Although it can be a safe way to assist with a difficult delivery, forceps pose risks to both mother and child, including: 

  • Vaginal tearing 
  • Difficulty for the mother to evacuate her bladder or bowels after birth 
  • Minor facial injuries to the baby including external eye trauma caused by the forceps arms 
  • Skull fracture  
  • Temporary weakness in the facial muscles 
  • Bleeding within the skull 
  • Seizures

Most babies delivered by forceps will have temporary marks on their faces, which are not a cause for concern. While serious injuries from forceps are rare, they can occur and should be treated immediately. 


In a vacuum delivery, a vacuum extractor also known as a ventouse, is a small metal or plastic cup that uses suction to help the baby out of the birth canal. Typically, a doctor will apply the suction instrument to the top of the baby’s head and gently pull. Although the vacuum is less likely to cause vaginal tearing, other risks include: 

  • Additional pain in the vagina and perineum after birth 
  • Scalp wounds on the baby such as bruising and cuts 
  • Possible skull fracturing or bleeding as the suction can exert a tremendous amount of pressure on the baby’s skull 
  • Both instruments pose risks of anemia and weakening of pelvic muscles 

Again, serious injury to the baby is not common, but the risk of injury is higher than with a normal vaginal delivery. Also, whenever a vacuum extraction is considered, a Cesarean section is usually also an option that can be considered and may pose less risk to the baby and/or mother.  


The Holton Law Firm Understands Birth Injury 

If your baby was delivered by forceps or vacuum extraction and suffered an injury to his face, eyes, skull, or brain, the experienced Memphis birth injury attorneys at Holton Law are here to help.  We understand the risks of instrument delivery, and if negligence occurred we can explain options for recovery to you. Contact us today by starting a live online chat on our website.