Ventous birth - why and what to expect


Although most pregnant women aim to have straightforward labour and birth, it is useful to be aware of all the different terms and procedures in case, during the birth, your midwife or obstetrician advises that action needs to be taken. Understanding it in advance allows you to feel more comfortable and confident in the choices you make.

Remember, it is completely YOUR choice, but midwives and other medical help on hand are duty-bound to advise you on what they assess to be safest for you and your child.

What is a ventouse?

A ventouse is a small instrument used to help pull a baby out during the final moments of a vaginal birth. It consists of a soft plastic cup which is placed on the crown of the baby's head, and a handle which is attached to a vacuum pump which gently sucks to aid the mother's pushing.

When is ventouse delivery used?

During a regular vaginal birth, when the mother has pushed the baby to the opening of the vagina but cannot push the baby out, the midwife or doctor might use ventouse to encourage the final movements to get the head through the vagina, before reverting to normal manual delivery of the baby.

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The point at which a ventouse (or forceps) is used is when either the mother is not capable physically of pushing enough to get the baby's head through the vagina, or if the baby seems in some way to be tired or distressed and delivery becomes more urgent. In this instance, using ventouse can avoid the need to opt for an emergency caesarian.

What happens when ventouse is used?

When the soft plastic cup (see above) has been placed on the baby's head and the suction is engaged, this keeps the cup in place on the baby's head. As the mother pushes, the doctor or midwife follows these movements with the pull of the ventouse to encourage the baby's head to come through the vagina. Once it is through, normal delivery of the rest of the baby's body can then proceed.

What are the possible risks of using ventouse?

For the mother, artificially encouraging the baby's head in this final push can cause some tearing or the need for an episiotomy (where a small cut is made to enlarge the opening for the baby's head). There is also a slight increase in the risk of the muscle around the anus being damaged.

For the baby, there may be some bruising to the head for a time but this should not cause long term damage.

It is important to weigh up these risks against the danger of a baby's birth being delayed which can cause dangerous distress. However, if you are concerned at all, raise it with your midwife team or with the staff before your labour gets into full swing.

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