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In an assisted delivery, a vacuum or forceps can ease your baby out and help avoid a c-section.
Narrator: With birth, it's best to expect the unexpected. Sometimes, during the pushing stage of labor, it's in the best interest of the baby or mother to speed up delivery by using forceps or a vacuum device.
This is known as an assisted or operative vaginal delivery, often used as one last step before opting for a c-section.
Dr. Jason Baxter: When a doctor is suggesting using an instrument, usually it's because of an indication -- the baby needs to be delivered soon or the mom is exhausted.
Narrator: Dr. Jason Baxter is a perinatologist and the director of research and obstetrics at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. He is using this medical training model and baby to explain how forceps and vacuums are used in delivery.
Doctor: Most obstetricians won't offer the option of a forceps- or vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery unless the baby is in a safe position, far enough down in the birth canal to perform that procedure.
Many of these instruments were designed more than a century ago.
Narrator: It's perfectly normal for parents to have fears about the risks associated with using these instruments, but serious complications are relatively rare.
Doctor: You can see that the vacuum cup -- soft foam on the inside -- is connected through a wire to a handheld pump where we can measure the amount of pressure applied at the point of suction.
So the doctor will gently place the plastic cup on the top of the baby's head, then -- while a contraction is occurring -- will pump up the pressure and then pull while Mom pushes.
This will help guide the head down through the birth canal. Release the pressure on the cup and help the baby's head deliver.
Narrator: About 1 percent of all U.S. births use forceps in assisted or operative vaginal deliveries, and a little over 4 percent use plastic vacuum or suction cups.
Doctor: These are actually specifically designed to follow the curve of baby's head and the curve of Mom's pelvis, to minimize any potential damage to each.
Narrator: There are over 40 types of forceps. This one is a standard shape and design.
Doctor: Typically the doctor will protect the side of Mom's vagina, will gently slide one forcep in front of baby's ear, over the cheekbone. And then placing the other forcep, lock the forceps blades, and then while Mom pushes, help deliver the baby to the vaginal opening. The forceps are removed, and the baby is delivered.
An operative vaginal birth can result in worse tears to the perineum or the vagina.
The biggest risks that I talk to parents about is the risk of marks. You can see a little mark left by the suction.
Narrator: Your baby may have temporary bruising or small cuts on his head or face that may last for several days. More serious problems -- like bleeding under the scalp, brain or eye injury, and nerve damage -- are relatively rare.
The overall risks and benefits of a vacuum versus forceps delivery are about the same, and results are best when the doctor uses the method he or she is most comfortable with.
Long before you're in the delivery room, you should ask your doctor whether he or she has experience delivering babies with forceps or a vacuum. Before consenting, ask why an assisted vaginal delivery is necessary, which method will be used, and what the risks and benefits are, as well as any alternatives available for you and your baby.
In experienced hands, these medical instruments can be lifesavers.