A perineal tear is an injury which can happen during childbirth. It cannot happen if a woman gives birth through a caesarean section but only with a vaginal birth. A perineal tear can occur when the baby emerges from the vagina because the vagina and the surrounding skin and muscle need to stretch.
The majority of women giving birth do receive some sort of tear during childbirth but for most women these are small, superficial tears which heal quickly.
1st and 2nd degree tears
If a woman suffers a 1st degree tear, it will only damage the skin of the vagina and possibly the skin of the area between the vagina and the anus, which is called the perineum.
A 2nd degree tear will damage the muscle as well as the skin of the perineum. This is a slightly more serious injury and will definitely need stitching to repair it. However, this repair can be carried out by the midwife on the maternity unit and should heal thoroughly and quickly if it is looked after. This requires the new mother to keep the area clean, drink plenty of fluids and change any sanitary wear regularly.
3rd and 4th degree tears
3rd and 4th degree tears are far more severe injuries and require the attention of a skilled surgeon. This is because 3rd and 4th degree tears injure the anus as well as the perineum. Sometimes they can even injure the inside of the anus, causing a serious injury. The anus is the opening to the bowel where wind and faeces leave the body. If the muscles of the anus (the anal sphincter) are damaged, the woman affected may find it hard to control her bowels when she wants to go to the toilet or pass wind.
These serious injuries are more likely to happen if your baby is heavy, if this is the first time you have given birth and if you have an instrumental delivery with forceps or a ventouse.
Diagnosing 3rd and 4th degree tears
It is very important that these serious tears are noticed by the midwife or doctor as soon as possible after the birth. In order to make sure that this happens, the medical professional who attends your birth should carry out a very careful examination of your genital and anal area. If there is any sign of damage to the anus, the midwife or doctor should carry out a rectal examination. This means that they will insert a gloved finger into the opening of your anus to find out if any damage has occurred. This is necessary to make sure that you receive the correct type of repair.
Failing to diagnose your 3rd or 4th degree tear
If nobody realises that you have received an injury to your anal muscles, you will not receive a proper repair. In these circumstances, you might start to lose control of your bowels and find that you have very little time to get to the toilet and possibly that you leak wind or faeces without meaning to.
This can be very distressing and make it difficult to travel, work and lead a normal life.
Speak to a solicitor
If you are suffering with the shocking symptoms of a serious childbirth tear, it may be because your tear was not diagnosed properly or your repair was not good enough.
In this situation, it may be possible to make a claim for compensation which could help you to deal with some of the difficulties you are now experiencing.
Call us to speak to a medical negligence solicitor who has experience of claims for mismanaged perineal tears.
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If you, or your family member, has suffered a birth injury tear, please call us now for free, no obligation advice on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile click to call 01275 334030) or complete our Free Online Enquiry.