Open Access Research article

Vacuum assisted birth and risk for cerebral complications in term newborn infants: a population-based cohort study

Cecilia Ekéus1*, Ulf Högberg2 and Mikael Norman3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Division of Reproductive Health, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Division of Pediatrics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-36

Published: 20 January 2014



Few studies have focused on cerebral complications among newborn infants delivered by vacuum extraction (VE). The aim of this study was to determine the risk for intracranial haemorrhage and/or cerebral dysfunction in newborn infants delivered by VE and to compare this risk with that after cesarean section in labour (CS) and spontaneous vaginal delivery, respectively.


Data was obtained from Swedish national registers. In a population-based cohort from 1999 to 2010 including all singleton newborn infants delivered at term after onset of labour by VE (n = 87,150), CS (75,216) or spontaneous vaginal delivery (n = 851,347), we compared the odds for neonatal intracranial haemorrhage, traumatic or non-traumatic, convulsions or encephalopathy. Logistic regressions were used to calculate adjusted (for major risk factors and indication) odds ratios (AOR), using spontaneous vaginal delivery as reference group.


The rates of traumatic and non-traumatic intracranial hemorrhages were 0.8/10,000 and 3.8/1,000. VE deliveries provided 58% and 31.5% of the traumatic and non-traumatic cases, giving a ten-fold risk [AOR 10.05 (4.67-21.65)] and double risk [AOR 2.23 (1.57-3.16)], respectively. High birth weight and short mother were associated with the highest risks. Infants delivered by CS had no increased risk for intracranial hemorrhages. The risks for convulsions or encephalopathy were similar among infants delivered by VE and CS, exceeding the OR after non-assisted spontaneous vaginal delivery by two-to-three times.


Vacuum assisted delivery is associated with increased risk for neonatal intracranial hemorrhages. Although causality could not be established in this observational study, it is important to be aware of the increased risk of intracranial hemorrhages in VE deliveries, particularly in short women and large infants. The results warrant further studies in decision making and conduct of assisted vaginal delivery.