During a vaginal delivery, the perineum (the area between the vaginal opening and the anus) will sustain a significant amount of trauma. Sometimes the perineum will stretch to such an extent during labour that the tissue will actually tear. This is known as a perineal tear.
There are different types of perineal tear, with third and fourth degree tears being the most severe. First and second degree tears are more minor injuries.
Who will suffer a perineal tear?
Anyone who gives birth vaginally is at risk of suffering a perineal tear. It is not normally something that can be prevented. There are certain factors that will make the occurrence of a perineal tear more likely (although that is not to say a tear will definitely happen). These risk factors include:-
- It is the mother’s first time giving birth vaginally;
- An instrumental delivery is needed – such as a forceps or ventouse delivery
- The second stage of labour is prolonged;
- The baby is very large;
- A midline episiotomy;
- An epidural anaesthetic;
- Birth complications such as shoulder dystocia.
Repairing perineal tears
Perineal tears are an unfortunate but perfectly natural part of childbirth. Nevertheless, the injury must be diagnosed and repaired shortly after the delivery. This should be done via an examination soon after the birth, including a genital and digital rectal examination (whereby a finger is placed into the anus). This examination can be performed by a midwife or a doctor. Either way, the medical practitioner should be able to recognise a perineal tear and verify how extensive the injury is (i.e. a first, second, third or fourth degree tear).
It is very important that this examination occurs, and that it is performed by a competent medical practitioner. This is because if a perineal injury remains undiagnosed, complications could develop. This is especially true of missed third and fourth degree tears, as these are severe injuries that must be repaired by an experienced surgeon in theatre. Without a proper repair, problems such as faecal incontinence and recurrent urinary tract infections may arise.
Claiming for a missed third or fourth degree tear
If you have had a third or fourth degree tear which medical professionals did not detect and treat after the birth of your child, you could be entitled to compensation for the damage this has caused. To find out more you need to speak to a solicitor as soon as possible.
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