Vacuum Extraction Birth Injury
When a labor and delivery becomes prolonged and complicated, the risks of injuries for the mother and especially the child are significantly heightened. If the baby that is being pushed through the birth canal during a vaginal birth undergoes stress and fails to receive sufficient oxygen, severe birth injuries can occur. In certain situations obstetricians choose to use birth-assistive devices such as vacuum extractors to guide the baby out, particularly during a difficult delivery.
However, these tactics and maneuvers come with risks and require skill to be applied successfully. In the hands of incompetent or negligent doctors who attempt these types of procedures, the consequences can be devastating or even deadly. If your child has suffered a birth injury and lifelong disabilities due to improper vacuum use during birth, you may be able to file a birth injury lawsuit against the doctor, the hospital and other parties involved. An experienced New York birth injury lawyer will be able to help families assess their legal rights and options in these types of cases.
What is a Vacuum Extraction?
A vacuum extraction, which is also known as a vacuum-assisted delivery, is a procedure, which is sometimes undertaken during a vaginal childbirth. During a vacuum-assisted delivery, a doctor or obstetrician applies the vacuum – essentially via a soft or rigid cup that is attached to a handle and a vacuum pump – to the baby’s head to help guide the infant out of the birth canal. About one in 20 vaginal deliveries in the United States end up using some form of assistance with vacuum extraction becoming more favored over forceps.
A vacuum extraction involves placing a small, flexible, round cup to your baby’s head in the birth canal. A small, handheld, electrical pump is then used to create suction so that the cup holds securely to the baby’s head. The doctor then pulls gently on the cup to guide the baby through the birth canal as the mother pushes. This type of delivery is recommended only for babies that are born headfirst and full term. It can be hazardous when used on preterm babies.
Vacuum extraction may be recommended during the second stage of labor when the mother is pushing, particularly if the labor is not progressing and if the baby’s health depends on a quick delivery. It is important to understand that even though your healthcare provider might recommend a vacuum extraction to hasten childbirth, there are potential risks for both mother and child. If a vacuum extraction fails or is not executed properly, a cesarean delivery or C-section may be needed.
Why Vacuum Extractions Are Done
A vacuum extraction must only be done in a hospital or facility where staff is at hand to perform an emergency C-section. A vacuum extraction might be considered if your cervix is fully dilated, your membranes have ruptured, your baby has descended into the birth canal headfirst and you are unable to push the baby out.
A vacuum extraction may be recommended if:
- You are pushing, but your labor is not progressing. Labor is considered prolonged if you have not made progress within a certain period of time.
- Your baby’s heartbeat indicates that there is a problem. If there are changes in your baby’s heartbeat and an immediate delivery becomes necessary, your doctor might recommended a vacuum-assisted vaginal delivery.
- The mother has a health concern. If you have certain health conditions such as a narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve (aortic valve stenosis), your healthcare provider might want to limit the amount of time you push.
Risks of a Vacuum Extraction
There are definitely certain risks to performing a vacuum extraction. Some of these risks are as follows:
- The mother is less than 34 weeks pregnant.
- The baby has a condition that affects the strength of his or her bones or has a bleeding disorder.
- The baby’s head has not yet moved past the midpoint of the birth canal.
- The position of the baby’s head is unknown.
- The baby’s shoulders, arms, buttocks or feet are leading the way through the birth canal. This might mean that the baby is in the breech position (feet first) as opposed to head-first (which is desired).
- The child is not able to fit through the mother’s pelvis because of his or her size or because of the size of the mother’s pelvis.
Birth Injuries Caused by Vacuum Extraction
There are a number of serious and potentially disabling injuries that may result from improper or forceful use of a vacuum extractor.
Brain injuries that stem from the use of vacuum extractors may be among the most harmful, subsequently leading to catastrophic injuries and permanent disabilities for the child. The misuse of vacuum extractors may result in severe head injuries including:
Cerebral contusions: When too much pressure or force is exerted on the child’s head from the vacuum extractors, the baby’s brain tissue might be bruised potentially resulting in mental disabilities.
Fetal stroke: Misuse of vacuum extractors might cause blood clots inside the child’s blood vessels resulting in infant stroke.
Rupture of blood vessels: Excessive pressure applied by a vacuum extractor can stretch and tear the blood vessels and brain tissue causing irreparable and irreversible brain damage. This may also cause changes in a newborn’s blood flow leading to a number of other types of brain injuries.
Skull fractures: When improperly used, vacuum extractors can cause a child’s skull to break resulting in permanent brain damage.
Since vacuum extractors are applied to an infant’s head during the delivery, any incorrect or negligent use of the extractor can cause serious head injuries and brain damage, which in turn result in cerebral palsy. For example, when the suction force generated by the extractor is too great, lasting damage might be inflicted to the newborn’s brain, skull and face. A doctor might cause brain damage during the delivery if he or she twists the baby’s head or neck or pulls on the head with excessive force.
Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term that refers to a group of disorders affecting a person’s ability to move. This is because of damage to the developing brain, often due to injury to the child’s head and brain that occurs during birth. Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways and can affect body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. Often, cerebral palsy is a permanent lifelong condition that requires continued treatment, care and therapy. Those who have cerebral palsy may also have visual, learning, hearing, speech, epilepsy and intellectual impairments.
Pulling a child that is stuck in the birth canal with excessive force can also cause injuries to the nerves of the brachial plexus resulting in a birth injury commonly known as Erb’s palsy or Brachial Plexus palsy. The brachial plexus is the network of nerves that sends signals from your spinal cord to your shoulder, arm and hand. A brachial plexus injury occurs when these nerves are stretched, compressed, or in the most serious cases, ripped apart or torn away from the spinal cord, which may happen with improper or forceful use of a vacuum extractor.
More severe symptoms result when these injuries tear or rupture the nerves. The most serious brachial plexus injury (avulsion) occurs when the nerve root is torn from the spinal cord. Signs and indications of these types of injuries often include weakness or inability to use certain muscles in your hand, arm or shoulder; lack of movement and feeling in your arm, including your shoulder and hand; and severe pain.
In addition to these types of birth injuries, children may also suffer injuries to the facial bones and eyes. Damage to the facial nerve may cause a type of birth injury known as facial paralysis, which results in loss of voluntary muscle movement in an infant’s face. This type of damage is often caused by pressure applied to the facial nerve at the time of birth.
Liability in Vacuum Extraction Cases
Birth injuries linked to vacuum extraction are often preventable with proper prenatal and fetal monitoring. For example, if the mother has diabetes there is the inherent risk of her having a larger than average baby and a vaginal birth might be a struggle. This is also true for women who have a smaller pelvis and may have trouble with a vaginal birth. Your doctor should be able to anticipate these issues and schedule a cesarean section or C-section if necessary to avoid the risk of prolonged labor, which necessitates the use of birth-assistive tools such as vacuum extractors.
If your doctor failed to spot the red flags, and take the necessary steps to prevent your child’s birth injuries or if he or she caused those injuries with improper use of a vacuum extractor, then you may have the basis for a birth injury lawsuit. Your healthcare provider has the duty to inform you about the risks and dangers of using this type of procedure. Your doctor or obstetrician also has the duty to perform these procedures in a competent manner in order to avoid injury and harm to mother and child.
When children suffer these types of injuries at birth, they often require extensive treatment and therapy, which can prove costly. A birth injury lawsuit can help families hold the hospital, medical provider, doctor or other negligent parties accountable for the injuries, damages and losses caused.
Vacuum Extraction and Birth Injury Lawsuits
When you undergo a long or complicated delivery, your medical team has the responsibility to help you make the safest and most effective choices to facilitate the process. There are times when the use of vacuum-assisted delivery may not be the right choice for your child. In fact, it might turn out to be the wrong decision, causing your child to suffer severe and disabling birth injuries.
If your doctor had sufficient information to know that a C-section would have been less risky or if your doctor used a vacuum extractor improperly or with excessive force, you may have a medical malpractice claim. You may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost income and wages, loss of future income, permanent injury, disability, past and future pain and suffering, etc.
We have seen many cases where New York City Health and Hospital Corporation hospitals deliver babies who are born with cerebral palsy or erb’s palsy stemming from negligence and/or medical malpractice in the labor and delivery etc. of the children. The following list identifies some of these hospitals (operated by New York City Health and Hospital Corporation):
- Jacobi Hospital aka Bronx Municipal 1400 Pelham Parkway South Bronx, New York 10461 718-918-5000
- Lincoln Hospital 234 East 149th Street Bronx, New York 10451 718-579-5000
- North Central Bronx Hospital 3424 Kossuth Avenue Bronx, New York 10467 718-519-5000
- Coney Island Hospital 2601 Ocean Parkway Brooklyn, New York 11235 718-616-3000
- Kings County Hospital 451 Clarkson Avenue Brooklyn, New York 11203 718-245-3131 BIGGEST HOSPITAL IN THE WORLD
- Woodhull Hospital 760 Broadway Brooklyn, New York 11206 718-963-8000
- Bellevue Hospital 462 First Avenue New York, New York 10016 212-562-5555
- Harlem Hospital 506 Lenox Avenue New York, New York 10037 212-939-1000
- Metropolitan Hospital 1901 First Avenue New York, New York 10029 212-423-6262
- Elmhurst Hospital 79-01 Broadway Elmhurst, New York 11373 718-334-4000
- Queens Hospital Center 82-68 164th Street Jamaica, New York 11432 718-883-3000
If your child has suffered facial paralysis or a birth injury as the result of medical negligence, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you.
One of our clients secured a $43,940,000 verdict for a child who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The hospital failed to diagnose fetal distress, which led to brain damage and cerebral palsy from lack of oxygen supply to the brain. The delay in diagnosing the fetal distress and ordering a C-section delivery caused the child’s condition. Defense attorneys argued that the child’s injuries were caused by premature birth and that the obstetrical care was appropriate. The $43,940,000 verdict was eventually reduced on appeal, because the verdict was so huge.
In another case, our client obtained a $4,500,000 settlement where the doctor negligently used forceps to deliver a baby cutting oxygen supply to the child’s brain. The infant suffered from cerebral palsy as a result. We were able to prove that a C-section should have been performed, which may well have prevented the cerebral palsy from occurring.
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