If you’re worried about tearing during labour there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk.
Before we get down to the tips, its worth mentioning that as with all things to do with labour, there are no guarantees.
You may want a natural birth in water, but you end up with an emergency C-section in an operating theatre.
The point is that there’s no way of predicting what your body will do when you go into labour. If you can accept that fact, try to take a deep breath and learn to go with the flow of what your body, and your midwife, tells you to do, then you’ll be a lot happier.
There are a lot of factors involved with tearing, from how quickly your baby is born, to how big their head is, to the position they come out.
Of course the idea of tearing during childbirth has us all crossing our legs and wincing. It’s not a pleasant thought, and you can guarantee that if men had to rip themselves in two down there to deliver babies, there would be no more babies!
What does tearing in labour feel like
As someone who has suffered a second degree tear in both labours, you need to know one very important thing. It’s really not as bad as it sounds.
In the heat of the moment of delivering my babies, I had no idea what was going on down there, I was only thinking about finally being free of the contractions.
When it comes to being stitched up, I was given some local anaesthetic. I could feel slight pricks where the needle went in, but nothing painful and then nothing.
If you want to find out more about healing after giving birth, including tears, check out my post about healing “down there” after labour and delivery.
How common is tearing during childbirth
Tearing happens when the baby is in the final stages of being born. As the head emerges, the vagina and perineum stretch and for most women the skin stretches to the point of tearing.
Tearing to some degree is very common during childbirth. Up to nine in every 10 women will experience some sort of tear during childbirth.
Third or fourth-degree tears are the most severe, but least common. These involve rearing to the anus. These can lead to long-term issues and if you do tear to this degree, you will be given exercises to help strengthen the area.
Most people will suffer a first or second-degree tear, which may involve a few stitches to help them heal.
Is it better to tear or be cut during childbirth?
During labour your doctor or midwife may decide to perform an episiotomy, or a cut to your perineum, in order to help the baby be born. This is to speed up the labour or to prevent a more serious tear.
The latest research suggests that while an episiotomy can help to prevent more severe tears, such as tears that effect the muscle and anus, a natural tear will heal better.
How can I prevent tearing during labour?
There are several things you can do to prevent tearing during labour. You may wish to make a note of some of these for your birth plan, and discuss them with your birthing partner.
This way when it comes to labour, you will have someone to help you see through these tips to help prevent tearing.
Perineal massage during final month of pregnancy
When you enter the last four weeks before your due date, you can start to do regular perineal massage to help prepare your vagina for the birth.
This can help to improve the flexibility of the area, and so reduce the risk of tearing.
In order to perform a perineal massage you will need some vegetable or olive oil (just grab some from the kitchen cupboard) or vitamin E oil, as recommended by the NHS. Make sure your hands are clean.
Lie down against some pillows on the bed and have your knees bent. Next place your gingers around 5cm inside your vagina and press downwards towards the anus.
Move your fingers to each side in a U-shaped stretching movement. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds and then release. Repeat five times.
Try to do this once a day. You may need your partner to help you if you are struggling to perform the massage around your baby bump.
Get something to help with kegel exercises
You can get specific Kegel exercise balls that you insert down there. These take the effort out of preparing your perineum compared to the perineal massage.
There are loads on the market, and they are great for strengthening your pelvic floor after birth too. This is important to help your retain bladder control.
Get in a good position for birth
Try to get yourself into a position that puts less pressure on your perineum and vaginal floor during labour.
This may include upright squatting or lying on your side. Being on your hands and knees may also help to reduce perineal tears, and this is a good position for pushing and delivery anyway.
Have a water birth
If you have the option for a water birth then this can really help to soften and relax the muscles during delivery. This can help your skin to stretch easier to accommodate the baby, and so prevent tearing.
Applying a warm compress during the second stage of labour has been found to reduce the likelihood of a pregnant woman needing an episiotomy or tearing during labour. This can be applied after contractions are established and you have an urge to push.
Of course you may not have time to do this but it’s worth a try if you are pushing for a long time.
Listen to your midwife or doctor during the pushing stage
When it comes to pushing, you need to listen to your midwife or doctor, who will guide you as to how hard or quickly to push.
Your midwife will be watching your baby emerging into the world quite closely. Now, some babies will come shooting out. Others will need a few pushes once the head has entered the vagina.
Your midwife will be helping you to deliver the baby slowly so that your body has the time to stretch to accommodate the head.
Listen to your body during delivery
Of course you want to take medical advice, but you know how your body feels best.
If you feel like you need to slow down, then slow it all down. Your body will tell you when you really need to push, and if you are pushing too hard.
Hopefully these tips were useful and you feel a little more prepared for labour now.
Don’t forget to check out these posts which are really handy for preparing for baby:
How to prepare every room of your house for baby
Final trimester checklist
What to buy for your baby