• vacuum extraction;
  • forceps;
  • cesarean section;
  • maternal and neonatal morbidity

Background.  To identify the risk factors for failed instrumental vaginal delivery, and to compare maternal and neonatal morbidity associated with failed individual and sequential instruments used.

Design.  A retrospective case-control study.

Methods.  From January 1995 to June 2001, there were 39 508 live births at >37 weeks' gestation of which 2628 (6.7%) instrumental vaginal deliveries were performed, 1723 (4.4%) were vacuum extractions and 905 (2.3%) were forceps. A total of 155/2628 (5.9%) patients who had failed instrumental delivery were matched with 204 patients who had successful instrumental delivery. The patients were divided into five groups. Group I (n = 129) had failed vacuum extraction, group II (n = 13) failed forceps, group III (n = 13) failed both (i.e. failed attempt at both instruments sequentially), group IV (n = 138) had successful vacuum extraction and group V (n = 66) successful forceps.

Results.  The failure rate for vacuum extractions 129/1723 (7.5%) was significantly higher than that for forceps 13/905 (1.4%) [odds ratio (OR) = 5.6, 95% CI 3–10.3]. There were no significant differences in all maternal complications (25.5% vs. 26.6%) between vacuum (groups I and IV) and forceps (groups II and V) assisted deliveries. There were more maternal complications in group III (46.2%) than in groups I (35.7%), II (23.1%) and V (27.3%) that did not reach statistical significance but were significantly higher than in group IV (15.9%, OR = 4.5, 95% CI 1.2–16.9). There was a significantly higher rate of all fetal complications in group III [11/13 (84.6%)] than in groups I [69/129 (53.5%)], II [7/13 (53.8%)], IV [35/138 (25.4%)] and V [22/66 (33.3%)] (OR = 4.8, 95% CI 0.9–19.9).

Conclusions.  Applying the instrument at ≤0 fetal station, nulliparous women, history of previous cesarean section and fetal head other than occipitoanterior position were risk factors for failed instrumental delivery. Sequential use of instrumental delivery carries a significantly higher neonatal morbidity than when a single instrument is used.