Updated: May 23, 2018
The idea of tearing down there is right up there as one of the biggest fears many mums-to-be have - the idea of it makes us flinch and can make voluntarily opting for a C-section feel like a smart choice. But here's the truth...You are unlikely to feel it when it happens.
With that in mind, this statistic caught my eye as it was splatted as a highlight in the May edition of Now Magazine in an otherwise fun article on top tips for post-baby sex. I was incredulous at this whopping stat - and deeply annoyed by this poor editorial choice.
Aside from venting my frustration at crappy journalism I want to do my bit in righting the wrong (one of so many) that has been put out there.
Firstly, I know tearing your perineum sounds horrible. BUT. Your body is pumped with oxytocin and endorphins - a feel good hormone and nature's own painkiller that beats any manmade ones hands down. For grazes and small tears in particular, which is what 96% of women who do experience tearing will have, the idea of it is 100% worse than the experience of it - you probably won't even know until the midwife tells you.
Now, let's consider this pesky 90% tear rate figure...What's the stat actually telling you - or rather, what isn't it telling you?
90% of what women? We know that women assisted by obstetricians are twice as likely to have medical interventions. And medical interventions such as forceps and ventouse, you guessed it, are going to cause way more tearing than gently breathing your baby out (or even roaring baby out as long as you are guided by your surges and not coached to push!). So I strongly suspect this statistic does not include in its sample women who given birth vaginally without medical assistance.
What tears are they talking about? There are grazes, and then tears that range from 1st degree to 4th degree - the first two are unlikely to need a stitch, the latter kind requires several and proper after-care. But these are going to be a minority of the tears that this 90% statistic is likely to be talking about. A RCOG report into perineal tearing says: "Results show that the prevalence of third or fourth degree tearing at first birth for the cohort was 3.8%."
A huge part of hypnobirthing is making informed choices. There is so much misinformation, dodgy interpretation of studies, misquoted stats, and weird routine practices out there...Please, please, please don't swallow any of it whole - do your own research (AIMS is one of the best places for objective information on all things pregnancy and birth) so that you have the full picture - you'll empower yourself to rise above the noise and to feel good and confident about your choices.
So now that we have dropped a grenade into that 90% stat, let's bulldoze the fear altogether.
There are a few things you can do to help you body and mind stretch, that will help avoid tearing altogether. These a valid and help ALL women. In fact I'd like to add a special message here to mums who already have a baby or two and have previously torn: YES these tips are very much for you too and WILL make a positive difference to your birthing experience!
Pelvic floor exercises. I can see you stifling the yawn already, but honestly - they are worth doing. Not only are toned muscles more resilient, you also train your pelvic floor to release under pressure. It's all about getting into the habit of it - try this handy Squeezy app by the NHS!
Perineal massage from 36 weeks. Don't think about it, just do it. It WILL make your perineum softer and stretchier.
Join a KG hypnobirthing course. Hypnobirthing mums are serene and allow their bodies and their baby to be in control of the final stage, resulting in a much gentler birth. The skills you learn are profoundly beneficial in helping you stay calm even when things go off-piste; hynobirthing not only helps you relax but it also helps you accept your birth. So if you do require stitching, you will be able to retreat to your soothing bubble of self-hypnosis and be ok with it. Importantly hypnobirthing is for dads too; as they are able to release their fears as well and learn how to effectively support you,
they become the vital missing link of continuity of care (something that has been shown time and time again to have a significant beneficial impact on birth experience
*Hire an independent midwife. For those in particular who have experienced previous birth trauma, the invaluable benefit of continuity of care can be key in feeling comfortable about being supported by someone you trust throughout birth - come what may.