Childbirth is hard on your body!
The reality is that on top of struggling to push your bundle of joy into this world you can often tear down there unless your doctor cuts you in time to keep the tear controlled.
Experts say that 9 out of 10 women will experience a tear, graze or episiotomy during their first vaginal birth.
In most cases, the tears heal within 6 weeks and there are no long-term problems, however, around 6% of first-time moms will have a deeper tear which can involve the sphincter muscle and is known as a 3rd or 4th-degree tear.
It can also affect 2 in 100 women who have previously had a vaginal birth.
There is something that women can do to try and prevent the tearing and aid with their recovery should they experience it.
The experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists say that massaging the perineum – the skin between the vagina and anus – can help.
What is perineal massage?
From 35 weeks onwards, daily perineal massage until the baby is born may reduce your risk of tearing.
Dr. Ranee Thakar, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist, and vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “It is common for tearing to occur between the vagina and anus to some extent during childbirth.
“This is because the baby stretches the vagina during birth.
“To reduce a woman’s risk of tearing during birth, she and her partner are encouraged to apply daily perineal massage until the baby is born.
“This is particularly beneficial for women giving birth vaginally for the first time.
“Up to nine in every 10 women having a vaginal birth for the first time 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 on their own or may require stitches.
“For a small group of women, deep tears, known as third- or fourth-degree tears, or obstetric anal sphincter injuries (OASI), may need to be repaired by surgery.”
How to do it
There are seven simple steps when it comes to perineal massage.
It can be done yourself or you can ask your partner to help.
Dr. Thakar talks us through how to do it…
- Run a warm bath
A warm bath before applying the massage may help to relax the muscles around the perineum.
- Find a comfortable position
It is important to be as relaxed as possible, so we recommend finding a comfortable and stable position, usually in bed, or on the floor.
- Make sure nails are cut short
It is best if nails are clipped short to reduce any scratching on the skin because the area in and around the vagina and perineum are very delicate.
- Use a lubricant
“A lubricant, such as a vitamin E oil, almond oil or olive oil, can be applied to the fingers, which can then be inserted into the vagina.
- Press gently
The massage should involve pressing gently down towards the anus and the sides of the vagina walls with the thumbs.
By holding down for around one minute, a stretching sensation should be felt.
Gently massage the lower half of the vagina using a U-shaped movement for around 2-3 minutes and repeat this 2-3 times.
- Repeat daily
Repeat daily, or whenever possible. It may take a couple of weeks of daily massage before more elasticity is felt in the perineal area.
Dr. Thakar added: “If a woman has any concerns or would like to be shown how to do this, she can speak to her GP, midwife or obstetrician.”
When to start doing it?
Perineal massaging is recommended from 35 weeks of pregnancy.
It’s especially important for first-time mums because 90 percent of women having a vaginal birth for the first time will experience some sort of tear, graze or episiotomy.
But it’s also recommended for every pregnancy after that too.
Dr. Thakar added: “A review published found that perineal massage reduces the likelihood of trauma to the perineal area, especially for first-time mothers.”
“But women can apply perineal massaging from 35 weeks regardless of whether it is her first pregnancy or not.”
What other ways can women reduce the risk of tearing?
If perineal massage isn’t for you then there are some other techniques you can try.
Dr. Thakar said: “A warm compress can be applied on the perineum during birth, while the baby’s head stretches the perineal tissues, which can also help to reduce the severity of tearing.
“A healthcare professional can support the perineum as the baby is being born.