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OB Guideline 18: Operative Vaginal Delivery1,2

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OB Guideline 18: Operative Vaginal Delivery1,2

Related to: Clinical Guidelines, Communication, Informed Consent, Medication, Nursing, Obstetrics

The vacuum extractor or forceps should only be used if all of the following conditions are met:

  1. The delivering clinician has clinical privileges to use a vacuum extractor or forceps.
  2. Capability to perform an emergency cesarean delivery is available if unexpected difficulties are encountered.
  3. Informed consent has been obtained and the patient agrees to the procedure.
  4. The fetal head (exclusive of any caput) has reached at least +2 cm (scale: -5 to +5) and clinical pelvimetry indicates that delivery without fetal or maternal trauma can reasonably be expected.
  5. The cervix is completely dilated and the membranes ruptured.
  6. The delivering clinician has assessed the station, position, and attitude of the fetal head as appropriate to permit an accurate cephalic application of the forceps blades, or vacuum cup.
  7. Adequate analgesia is provided.
  8. Urinary bladder is empty.

For use of the vacuum extractor:

  1. Gestational age must be 34 weeks or greater.
  2. Careful pelvic examination to rule out any maternal tissue trapped between the vacuum cup and fetal head.
  3. Vacuum extraction and commitment to vaginal delivery should be reevaluated in the event of:
    • failure of descent of the vertex with the first traction effort,
    • delivery that is not imminent after four traction efforts, or
    • vacuum cup detachment that occurs three times.

If the vacuum extractor or forceps fails to accomplish delivery despite proper application and technique, then a subsequent trial with the alternate instrument is appropriate only in carefully selected cases. If possible, a second opinion from another physician is recommended if a trial with the alternate instrument is planned. The consultant shall document his or her obstetrical evaluation and recommendation in the patient’s medical record (see Guideline 4).

Sequential use of vacuum extractor and forceps has been associated with an increased risk of neonatal complications and should not be routinely used. A trial of operative vaginal delivery should be attempted only when the likelihood of success is high, with the operator prepared to abandon the attempt if appropriate descent does not occur. If a trial of vacuum or forceps is unsuccessful, prompt cesarean delivery is indicated unless vaginal delivery is imminent.

The clinician shall record a detailed operative note which should include:

  • the station and position of the fetal head,
  • the fetal status at the time of application of vacuum extractor or forceps,
  • indications, and
  • clinical rationale and substantive risks discussed with the patient.
  • For vacuum extractions, the note must also include:
  • the instrument used and pressure settings,
  • number of attempts, and
  • duration of the procedure.

For forceps delivery, the note must also include:

  • confirmation of fetal position after the placement of the forcep blades, and
  • the number of pulls applied (with a qualitative assessment of the degree of effort).

If the operative note is dictated, then the delivering clinician should document the operative procedure in the patient’s medical record immediately following the delivery.


  1. ACOG/ACP Guidelines for Perinatal Care, Seventh Edition. Washington DC, October 2012.
  2. Operative vaginal delivery. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 154. November 2015. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
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December 20, 2017
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