If you’re reading this post then you are already doing the right thing by wanting to educate yourself about ALL aspects of labor and birth. Part of this research should involve learning how to prevent vaginal tearing.
According to Parents.com a whopping 95% of first time moms experience some degree of tearing during birth? What if I also told you that there are measures you can take to lower these odds significantly? Do I have your attention now?
I truly believe that moms-to-be are not educated enough about the birthing process and your choices you have in determining what kind of experience YOU want. Your body is the one performing this crazy miracle and therefore you are in charge.
Honestly the worst part about giving birth for me was the fear of the unknown. Having now been through a 16 hour, and medicated, labor I would tell every mom-to-be that your imagination is far worse than reality. Is it going to suck? Yes it will suck. Are you going to be able to get through it? Yes you will 100% get through it and have your beautiful baby in your arms at the end of it all. Just remember, our bodies were MADE for this.
What is Vaginal Tearing?
First thing to understand is what is vaginal tearing. As your baby descends into the birth canal it will eventually be met with resistance as the head begins to crown. The delicate skin around the opening of the vagina will then need to stretch to allow the baby’s head to exit.
The most common area that is put under extreme pressure during this stage of labor is known as the perineum. This is the skin between the vaginal opening and the anus. If the baby’s head puts too much pressure on this delicate skin before it has been given ample time to stretch then a possible tearing of this skin can occur.
What Makes Someone Prone to Tearing?
There are multiple factors that make someone more prone to tearing than others.
Position of the Baby
If your baby is born face up, which is not the ideal position, this can put more pressure on the perineum.
Size of the Baby
According to this article the average baby is just over 7.5 lbs, however, if your baby is well over 8 lbs then you will be more likely to tear.
First Vaginal Birth
Around 95% of women tear during their first vaginal birth. You can understand that stretching part of your skin to those limits when it has never stretch that far before can be straining!
Length of Labor
The longer the “pushing” phase goes on for the more swelling that takes place. This swelling is very irritating to your skin and can make it more likely for you to tear!
Degrees of Tears
First degree tear:
Consider yourself lucky! This degree of tearing is only skin deep and does not involve tearing any muscle into the vaginal wall. This type of tear does not always require stitching, but if it does it is usually only one long layered one and is therefore easier to heal from.
Second degree tear:
This is the most common type of tear and not only involves the tearing of the lining, but also the deeper muscular tissue. Though common this type of tear requires a bit more skilled suturing and usually heals within 2-3 weeks. This is the type of tear I had and while my pain was pretty much gone by the 3 week point, that skin is sill sensitive over 8 month’s later. Everyone’s body is different.
Third degree tear:
This type of tear goes even deeper into the vaginal muscle and even the rectal lining. Due to the nature of this tear your doctor will most likely need to stitch up multiple layers. This degree of tear usually has 2-3 weeks of painful healing followed by several more weeks to allow the nerve endings to heal.
Fourth degree tear:
Pray you do not get this! This is by far the rarest and most extreme of all tears. This tear encompasses all of the above PLUS tearing through the rectal wall. Sounds lovely doesn’t it?
The read more in depth information about perineal tears there is this great article.
5 Ways to Prevent Vaginal Tearing
Exercise and Hydration
Just like any marathon you would train for, giving birth is no different. I will say that I am by no means in the best shape ever, yet I made it through a 16 hour-long birth! Our bodies were made for this so don’t feel that you need to overexert yourself and exercise more than you did before you became pregnant.
A main part of staying healthy is eating healthy and staying hydrated. This is the easiest and best thing you can do to prepare your body for labor. Foods containing Vitamin E, C and Zinc are particularly helpful in aiding healing. My favorite pre and post-pregnancy drink was pineapple juice as it has multiple benefits.
Read my post about What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag for more information on what other odd things I packed!
Despite popular belief there is absolutely nothing that says you have to give birth on your back. I’m a firm believer that this is just a better position for the doctor and that’s pretty much it.
The birth canal sits at an angle and when a mother is lying on their back baby literally has to journey up hill! Crazy right? Also am I the only one that doesn’t understand why doctors do not want you putting pressure on your back after the first trimester, yet giving birth in that position is ok? Uh hello? Is anyone else sensing a red flag here?!
Some of the less stressful positions include being on all fours or lying on your side or kneeling. I personally gave birth on my side, which yes you can do even with an epidural. Do what is most comfortable for you and your body.
This is a great article that goes into more detail about the pros and cons of different labor positions.
Are you ready for a visual here? Imagine a piece of construction paper with a straight cut in it from the end to the center of the paper. When compared to an uncut piece of paper which is easier to tear? The one with the cut already in it right? Same thing applies to an episiotomy.
For those of you who don’t know an episiotomy is a surgical cut made by your doctor in the perineum to widen the vaginal opening.
For more information about all things episiotomy related I recommend reading this helpful article.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
These are better known as kegels and they are your best friend. It is important to not only do these exercises while you are pregnant, but especially after giving birth. The best part is they require little to no effort so you should be able to start these bad boys immediately after giving birth. I usually perform 10 slow and 10 quick sets at a time.
This is my favorite list of exercises that can be done during your 6 week wait before your first postpartum checkup.
Most women can start performing perineal massage at the 34-week mark. It is exactly what it sounds like in which the woman or her partner periodically massages the perineum. The idea behind it is if the skin is already predisposed towards stretching then there will be less trauma during the birthing process. There are many contradictory studies out there about this technique so I personally did not use it, but you can be your own judge.
This is a great tutorial on how to perform perineal massage if you want to give it a whirl.
Just like any injury your body will heal if you give it time. This is by no means something that should scare you about giving birth. The fact that you are reading this article is the most important first step to ensuring you have a safe birth the way YOU want to.
What other research have you done to get your mind and body ready for labor and delivery? Let me know in the comments below!