Vaginal Tears During Childbirth - What it is and how to reduce the severity
We all know that childbirth is painful. What many people (and many first-time mothers) don’t realize is that the pain is not limited to the active labor and delivery portion of your childbirth. During childbirth, your vagina has to stretch and accommodate your baby’s head. Sometimes this can result in a vaginal tear. In this article, we will discuss what a vaginal tear is, what causes it, if you can prevent it, and what to expect for vaginal tear aftercare.
What is a vaginal tear during childbirth?
A vaginal tear also called a perineal laceration, is when the skin and muscle between your vagina and your anus are torn. The area between your vaginal opening and your anus is known as your perineum, hence the term perineal laceration.
During the child birthing process, the skin around your vagina thins. This allows your skin/muscle to stretch during your labor and delivery. This is meant to decrease your likelihood of vaginal tearing. Sometimes vaginal tears still occur despite all necessary precautions and preventions.
What causes a vaginal tear during childbirth?
There are a few reasons why a vaginal tear may occur.
- The baby’s head is too large
- The labor occurs too quickly
- Forceps or other tools are used during the delivery process
When the baby’s head is too large the tissue around the vagina is unable to stretch. This prevents the baby’s head from coming through the opening. The extra room necessary for the baby to come out can cause the surrounding tissue to tear.
If the labor occurs too quickly the tissue and muscle around the vagina has not had adequate time to thin out. Without the necessary thinning the skin and muscle cannot stretch enough and this can cause a vaginal tear during childbirth.
Finally, in particularly difficult labors, the baby may have difficulty coming out of the vaginal opening and may need extra assistance. In these cases, doctors may need to use forceps or other tools to guide the baby out. Despite their best efforts, this can cause some trauma to the surrounding tissue and result in a vaginal tear.
Types of Vaginal Tears During Childbirth
There are four degrees of vaginal tears that can occur during childbirth. The majority of women (90%) will experience some degree of tearing during childbirth. To determine the severity of the tear two factors are taken into consideration--how deep and how long the tear is.
- The first degree of vaginal tearing results in a small injury to the skin just outside of the vaginal opening and into the perineum.
- The second degree of vaginal tearing (the most common) affects the skin and the muscle outside of the vaginal opening and into the perineum.
- The third degree of vaginal tearing extends into the perineum and moves down toward the anus.
- The fourth degree of vaginal tearing extends all the way to, or into, the anus.
Third and fourth degree tearing is uncommon and occurs in only 1% of women. First degree tears will heal naturally but anything above that will likely need stitches.
What is an Episiotomy?
Unlike a vaginal tear, which occurs naturally during the child birthing process, an episiotomy is used by a doctor to open the vaginal canal for the baby. An episiotomy is a cut, made by a nurse, doctor, or midwife, that extends from the vaginal canal to the top portion of the perineum. The cut creates more space for the baby. The patient must give the doctor permission to perform the procedure.
Can you Prevent Vaginal Tearing During Childbirth?
While there is not definitive or conclusive research to determine their effectiveness, some women do take measures to decrease the severity of their vaginal tearing. In order to decrease the severity of vaginal tearing you can
- Push slowly - if you take your time during the labor process, and don’t push too hard, your tissue has a chance to thin out and stretch. Your physician will help you through this process and advise you on when and how hard to push.
- Keep your perineum warm - during your labor you can apply a warm cloth to your perineum area to help it stretch and thin.
- Perineal Massage - prior to your labor, in the third trimester, you or your partner can perform a perineal massage to help stretch the area. Your physician can also perform this massage during the labor.
- Deliver in an upright position - Make sure you are comfortable during your delivery. Delivering in an upright/seated position can help reduce tearing.
Vaginal Tear Care
After your labor is complete you will be in a lot of pain. Your body has gone through a traumatic ordeal and the whole experience will take time to heal from. Depending on the severity of your tear your physician may have to give you stitches. Your doctor or midwife will give you instructions on how to care for yourself so be sure to follow their directions.
In general your physician will advise you to
- Keep it clean by spraying warm water over it after using the restroom
- Keep it dry by patting it with a clean cloth or gauze
- Don’t touch it leave it to heal by itself
- Make sure to use the restroom. It is normal to be wary of the bathroom but it is important for your health. Some women recommend using stool softener to make it easy on those first few days while you are healing.
How long does it take to heal?
Like many cuts and lacerations it can take a while to heal. After about a week or a week and a half your tear should be healed within 7-10 days. However, you will likely still feel tender and experience a lot of pain for the next several weeks.
How to Reduce Pain
Pain is a natural part of the healing process but it can be frustrating and overwhelming when you also have other things to deal with. To reduce the pain you experience as much as possible try to ice it, heat it, numb it, prevent strain, and keep it cushioned. Using a cushioned donut pillow can be incredibly helpful.
Besides your perineal pain you may also experience some pain elsewhere. Using a postpartum girdle can help reduce pain in other areas of your body. A postpartum girdle can help reduce pain and swelling, get you feeling better and more confident, and speed up the healing process. Not only that, but a postpartum girdle allows you to perform your everyday tasks without the fear of straining yourself. The support offered by a postpartum girdle allows you to perform tasks without the fear of hurting yourself.
A vaginal tear during childbirth is a normal and common part of the labor and delivery process. They can range in severity and may require stitches. Your doctor or midwife will give you instructions on how to care for it and there are ways you can reduce your pain. We at Bellefit want to make sure you are feeling your best so you can enjoy your time with your new baby. That is why we offer affordable and comfortable postpartum girdles. To make your postpartum journey smoother and easier. Try one out today!