Yep, the rumors are true…vaginal tears can happen during childbirth but don’t stress just yet. It’s important to understand the difference between the degrees it can possibly tear, how often it can happen, and if it’s preventable.
Vaginal tears are also called perineal lacerations and basically happen as the baby’s head passes through the vaginal opening. If the baby’s head is too large or your muscles can’t stretch far enough, some tearing will occur. Tearing is quite common (95% of 1sttime moms) and a couple of other factors affect the possibility as well. Women who have a very fast labor often tear due to the skin and muscle not stretching slowly before baby comes out.
What are the different types of tears?
A 1st degree tear is typically very small and only tears the perineal skin (this may or may not require a few stitches). Generally, pain is minimal, and it heals after several weeks.
A 2nd degree tear gets a bit deeper into muscle territory after tearing the perineal skin. These tears will require stitching and a few weeks to heal. Pain will be a bit more than mild.
A 3rd degree tears go as far down as the muscle that surrounds the anus. This kind of tear requires a bit more care and often some repair in the O.R. Recovery will extend past a few weeks and physical activity such as sex may be painful at first.
A 4th degree tear is the most serious and goes past the muscle around the anus and into the mucous membrane that lines the rectum. This kind of tear will also require a trip to the O.R. for some extra repair and TLC. Recovery will also take some extra TLC as it will take a bit longer than the other tears.
We know vaginal tearing sounds terrifying but it is something to be aware of so you can be on top of your own physical recovery. First time moms are most likely to tear while subsequent births are less likely due to the skin and muscle being more flexible the next time around. Your health care provider can provide you with plenty of information on tears if you experience one so don’t fret, you’ll have more chances to get the most pertinent information.
What will help me recover?
Some advice for helping your discomfort postpartum can start with simple ideas such as sitting on a pillow or padded ring you can find in a drugstore. The most common advice we hear form other women is to cool yourself down with icepacks. Not only will it help with swelling but after all you’ve been through, it feels great on the body. If you’ve experienced a tear that needed stitches, a great idea is to have a squeeze bottle on hand during urination. It will help you flush it from the area, so you don’t experience stinging. Make sure to consult with your doctor about any OTC medications that help with pain management.
Can anything completely prevent tearing?
Completely prevent is a strong phrase, but there might be some tips to help reduce the amount of tearing. Yvonne Tobah, M.D. writes that preparing to push, keeping the perineum warm, perineal massage from the doctor, and delivering in an upright position can help.
Dr. Tobah recommends during the second stage of labor (pushing stage) that moms to be should try and push more controlled rather than explosive. This can be hard when you are exhausted and lacking focus but pushing slower can allow the skin and muscles to stretch easier.
Ask your healthcare provider about other techniques that might help prevent severe tearing.
For more info on how to help prevent tearing, click below for tips from the MAYO CLINIC