Assisted Vaginal Birth

If this is your first vaginal birth, you can expect to have two hours or more of pushing for your baby to be born. Women who have had a previous vaginal birth usually take less time. Generally, having an epidural means it will take longer to push your baby out.

If you’re experiencing trouble pushing your baby out by yourself, there are birthing tools that can help you. An assisted vaginal birth is when your care provider helps ease the baby out through your vaginal canal using either a vacuum or forceps. These tools can also be used if there is a problem that requires your baby to be born quickly.

Vacuum extraction
In British Columbia, vacuum extraction is the most commonly-used tool to assist with birth. A cup is placed on the baby’s head and suction is used to help gently pull the baby out while you push.

Forceps are instruments that are placed around the baby’s head and used to gently pull the baby out while you push. Forceps are usually more successful than the vacuum at helping the baby out, but they require more care provider experience and training to be used effectively and safely. Forceps deliveries are usually performed by an obstetrician.

Benefits of Assisted Vaginal Birth

In the hands of an experienced care provider, the use of a vacuum or forceps is considered very safe. It can help you avoid having a cesarean birth. Compared to cesarean birth, an assisted vaginal birth offers:

  • Less blood loss
  • Less risk of injury and infection
  • No complications associated with surgery
  • A shorter hospital stay
  • A faster, less painful post birth recovery
  • Less risk of breathing difficulties for your baby

Risks of Assisted Vaginal Birth

Using instruments to assist in vaginal birth carries greater risks than birthing your baby without medical interference. Compared to normal vaginal birth, an assisted vaginal birth carries a higher risk of:

  • Temporary red marks, swelling or slight bruises on your baby’s head. Rarely, there could be damage to your baby’s facial nerves.
  • A serious tear to your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus), bruising and soreness.
  • Short-term leaking of urine (urinary incontinence) or leaking of gas. These risks are greater with a forceps birth than with a vacuum extraction.
  • Short-term sexual problems after the birth of your baby, such as painful intercourse or decreased desire for sex. This is quite common following any type of birth. However, there is some evidence that assisted vaginal birth has a greater impact on sexual dysfunction than either normal vaginal birth or cesarean birth.