Instrumental vaginal birth

Chart title: Assisted (Instrumental) vaginal birth for selected women giving birth for the first time, by State/territory of birth and all Australia, 2004 to 2018.

This chart shows the proportion of women having an assisted instrumental vaginal birth for selected women giving birth for the first time, by state/territory of birth, 2004 to 2018.  Data can be viewed for each state/territory of birth, and for all Australia. The proportion for selected women having an instrumental vaginal birth for selected women giving birth for the first time increased from 22.8% in 2004 to 26.1% in 2018.

Selected women

Selected women include those aged between 20 and 34 years, whose baby’s gestational age at birth was between 37 and 41 completed weeks, with a singleton baby in the vertex presentation.

Comparison of ‘selected’ groups of women allows for an indication of standard practice. Selected women, for this indicator, refers to a cohort of mothers who are expected to have reduced labour complications and better birth outcomes. The proportion of selected women is approximately one-third (29.1%) of all women who gave birth in 2018.

Clinical commentary

The use of instruments – vacuum extraction cup or forceps – may be required to achieve a safe vaginal birth. Using instruments to assist birth is usually recommended when the condition of either the baby or the mother requires a hastened delivery (RANZCOG 2016).

Instrumental delivery is employed to accelerate birth in the presence of suspected or anticipated fetal compromise, delay in the second stage of labour or when maternal pushing efforts may make blood pressure or heart problems worse (RANZCOG 2016). Both vacuum and forceps assisted delivery are associated with an increased risk of injury to the tissues of the vagina, perineum and anus. This may lead to long-term perineal pain and sexual difficulties; additionally, a very small number may have urinary or faecal incontinence (RANZCOG 2016; RCOG 2011). Specialist obstetric and women’s healthcare groups recommend that episiotomy is used selectively, rather than routinely, in association with vacuum and forceps assistance to minimise that risk (RANZCOG 2016; RCOG 2011; WHA 2017).

Although the overall rate of injury to the baby because of instrumental vaginal delivery is low, there is a risk of certain complications, including injuries to the baby’s scalp, head, and eyes; bleeding inside the skull; and problems with the nerves located in the arm and face (RCOG 2011). The choice of which instrument to use depends on the clinical situation, and the principles of informed consent require that the woman is provided with information regarding these risks and the proposed benefits of the procedure prior to embarking on assisted vaginal birth.

Indicator specifications and data

Excel source data tables are available from the Data tab.

For more information refer to Specifications and notes for analysis in the technical notes.


RANZCOG (The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) 2016. Instrumental vaginal birth: Position statement (PDF). Viewed 18 August 2020.

RCOG (The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) 2011. Operative vaginal delivery: Green top guideline no. 26 (PDF). Viewed 18 August 2020.

WHA (Women’s Healthcare Australasia) 2017. WHA Intervention bundle (PDF). Viewed 18 August 2020.