More women over 40 are giving birth than those under 18. Is this trend contributing to what appears to be an increase in the occurrence of severe perineal tears during childbirth?
The recently-published National Maternity and Perinatal Audit, assessing data relating to almost 700,000 births over a twelve-month period from 2015 to 2016, has identified that over 50% of women giving birth are over 30 years of age.
The age of the mother is considered to be significant as a risk factor in whether or not a woman suffers a perineal tear during the birth of her child. It has been suggested that being over 25 can increase a woman’s chance of experiencing a severe tear.
Why do perineal tears occur?
For a woman to suffer a tear between the vagina and anus during the birth of her baby is not unusual and, for most women, this is an injury that repairs quickly and fully. However, for a minority of women, the damage can be severe and life-changing and awareness of the risk factors is vital in preparing for childbirth.
It would seem that older women are more likely to suffer a severe tear than younger women. The term ‘severe tear’ refers to either a third or fourth degree tear where the injury not only affects the skin and muscle of the perineum, but also extends to cause damage to the anal sphincter muscles and, possibly, internal anal canal. The long-term impact of such damage can be devastating to the woman if the injury is not repaired effectively shortly after the birth.
What are the other risk factors?
Age is not the only factor which might influence the occurrence of a severe tear. There are a range of other factors which can also affect this outcome such as the following:
- The size/weight of the baby – a larger baby is more likely to cause severe perineal injury
- The use of forceps or ventouse during the birth, especially where an episiotomy has not been undertaken
- The fact that this is the woman’s first vaginal delivery
- Women of Asian ethnicity may also be more susceptible to severe tears
- If the baby becomes stuck behind the woman’s pubic bone during the birth
There is also the possibility that the birthing position can contribute to the likelihood of a severe tear occurring.
Diagnosing perineal tears
After giving birth, a woman should undergo a thorough examination to check for any sign of injury.
It is important that particular attention is paid to those women who are associated with one or more of the risk factors mentioned above.
Without a prompt and accurate diagnosis, repair may be delayed and the woman may suffer incontinence problems for the rest of her lifetime.
If you are suffering with the appalling long-term effects of severe tear due to a failure to diagnose accurately or at all, you might wish to consider speaking to a solicitor regarding making a claim for compensation.
We are specialists in medical negligence, with a focus on supporting women who have suffered severe injuries in childbirth.
Contact us to discuss your situation with an experienced solicitor.
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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.