What are perineal tears?
Your perineum is the area between your vaginal opening and back passage (anus).
It is common for the perineum to tear to some extent during childbirth.
Tears can also occur inside the vagina and in the labia.
Up to 9 in every 10 women will experience some sort of tear or graze.
For most women, these tears are minor and heal quickly.
Anatomy of the perineum
What are the types of perineal tear?
Third and fourth degree tears
For some women (3.5 out of 100) the tear may be deeper. Third or fourth degree tears, also known as obstetric anal sphincter injuries (OASI), extend into the muscle that controls the anus (anal sphincter). These deeper tears need repair in an operating theatre.
Read more about third and fourth degree tears
Types of tears that can occur
Why do tears occur?
Tears happen spontaneously as the baby stretches the vagina and the perineum during birth.
What is the difference between a tear and an episiotomy?
An episiotomy is a cut made by your healthcare professional into the perineum and vaginal wall to make more space for your baby to be born.
Episiotomies are done with your consent.
They are only done if your baby needs to be born quickly, often if you are having an assisted (instrumental) birth, or if you are at risk of a serious perineal tear.
Read more about episiotomies
How do I know what type of tear I have?
After the birth of your baby, your healthcare professional will carefully examine your vagina, perineum and rectum to see if you have a tear, and if so, what type. They will then advise you if you need stitches.
If you have sustained a third or fourth degree tear, you will be transferred to the operating theatre where your muscles will be repaired. You will be given an epidural or spinal anaesthesia, so that you have good pain relief and can be examined thoroughly.