Guest blog by the Birth Trauma Association
Tearing in Childbirth; too many women suffer in silence
About 17,000 women a year in the UK (about three in 100 of all vaginal births) experience severe tearing in childbirth – yet it’s a problem that’s rarely talked about. Many more women experience minor tears.
A tear happens as your vagina stretches during birth. Health professionals have classed them according to severity: first degree, second degree, third degree or fourth degree.
A first-degree tear is skin deep and usually heals on its own.
A second-degree tear affects the muscle of the perineum (this is the area between your vagina and anus) and normally requires stitches – these can still cause pain for weeks after childbirth.
When we talk about severe tearing, we’re referring to third- or fourth-degree tears. These are tears that extend from your perineum into your anus (back passage). Usually you will need to go into the operating theatre to have the tears repaired.
If you’ve experienced a severe tear, you may well find it painful or uncomfortable for several weeks. For some women, the pain continues for longer. A lot of women who come to us at the Birth Trauma Association say they’re still experiencing pain a long time after birth, and some also find that they can’t control their bladder movements or their bowel movements.
At a time when you’re also looking after a new-born, and feel exhausted from lack of sleep, the added pain from a tear can feel like the last straw. Sometimes doctors and health visitors don’t understand the problems tearing can cause. One woman who shared her story on our website wrote: “I suffered incontinence for weeks due to the tear and was too humiliated to go out anywhere.”
Some tearing during childbirth can be prevented, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have been working on developing techniques to reduce tearing. We’ve been helping with the project by explaining how tearing can affect women. But we’d still like to see more understanding amongst health professionals of the physical impact and also the emotional impact tearing can have.
If you are still experiencing pain or other problems from a tear after childbirth, we recommend seeing your GP and asking for a referral to a physiotherapist. You may need to be persistent! We believe too many women are suffering unnecessarily.
If you’d like to talk to other women who have had a similar experience, do feel free to join our private Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/TheBTA
You’ll find lots of women there who will understand what you’ve been through.
Comfyse would like to thank the Birth Trauma Association for writing this special blog. Their support to help raise awareness of perineal tearing during childbirth and what help and support is available to women who experience it, is much appreciated.
Disclaimer – the content here is not professional medical advice. Please seek medical advice from your GP Doctor or Midwife if you are concerned about any conditions you are experiencing during your maternity.