Whilst most natural labours go smoothly some new mums do find that they suffer from a perineum tear whilst giving birth. We think that it’s important that women know the facts about vaginal tears so that if they do suffer tearing during labour they know what to expect. We wanted to give you some information on the different types of tears such as 2nd degree, 3rd degree and 4th degree tears and how long they take to heal. We’ll also look at different types of perineum tear treatment that you may need depending on what tearing you experience.
Why does tearing during birth happen?
The perineum is the area between your vagina and anus and it is quite a delicate piece of skin. Therefore it is no surprise that women often experience tearing during birth as the force and pressure of pushing your baby out can cause a perineal tear. These vaginal tears are fairly common and are most likely to happen to women giving birth to their first child. Superficial tears to the skin in that area are known as first degree tears and usually heal easily with no treatment required. However second, third and fourth degree tears can be more problematic and may need additional medical treatment and take longer to heal.
What is a 2nd degree tear?
A second degree perineal tear is a tear that goes deeper through the skin and into the muscle. These will usually require stitching to make sure that you heal properly and, as muscle is made up of a number of layers, then each layer will need to be carefully stitched back by a doctor. If you experience this type of tearing during labour you will find that you may feel perineal pain in that area for a few weeks afterward as the skin and muscle start to heal. Luckily the wonders of modern medicine mean that the stiches dissolve naturally rather than need to be removed sowithin a few weeks everything should be back to normal.
What are 3rd and 4th degree tears?
Third and fourth degree tears are a far more serious category than first and second degree tears and will need a more intensive treatment. These type of perineal tears go through the skin and muscle and extend into the anal sphincter – this is the muscle that helps you to do go to the toilet. Third degree tears usually just reach into the anal sphincter and fourth-degree tears go through the anal sphincter and into the tissue underneath it. These tears will require stitching too but as they are more serious this may need to be done in the theatre as it is a very delicate procedure. Don’t worry though as you will be given a local anaesthetic to make sure that you don’t feel any pain during the procedure and your midwife and doctor will be on hand to answer any worries or questions you may have.
How long do 3rd and 4th degree tears take to heal?
As you would expect the more serious the tear the longer the healing process will be and realistically pain and discomfort can last for up to 3 months. However by keeping your vaginal area clean, using ice packs and pain medication you can help to reduce the discomfort and keep infections at bay. If you feel you are at risk of suffering tearing during labour you may also want to take a look at our blog on how to prevent tearing during labour which has some great advice.