Different types of tears that can occur during childbirth
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 or other parts of the vulva, including the labia.
Up to 9 in every 10 first time mothers who have a vaginal birth will experience some sort of tear, graze or episiotomy. It is slightly less common for mothers who have had a vaginal birth before.
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 instrumental (forceps or vacuum assisted) 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.