I’m now 32 weeks pregnant and every time a week passes, a new (often terrifying) thing is brought to my attention.

32 weeks pregnant getting ready for boxercise

Perineum. There’s a word I didn’t know before I got pregnant. It’s the bit between your vagina and bum hole, and up until now I only knew this area, affectionately named by VIZ (a vulgar yet hilarious magazine that hales from Newcastle), as “the Humber Bridge”. The reason it has recently come to my attention is because I’ve just found out that poor little bit can TEAR during child birth.

There’s an element of ‘surely there are worse things to be worrying about during labour?’ Such as the excruciating feeling of each contraction and making sure you’re baby comes out free from distress and as healthy as possible, etc. etc.

While this is true and a little bit of tearing will heal fairly quickly, I still don’t want it to happen to me. What’s more there are actually 4 degrees of tearing ranging from the superficial to full tearing all the way to your bum that can cause anal incontinence. As if pregnancy weren’t bad enough! Plus you are more likely to tear if it is your first vaginal delivery, so that would be me.

The good news is you can prevent it (in fact I know someone who did the following exercise and it worked for her), or at least reduce the severity of any tears. As you can imagine, it is not an especially glamourous procedure, but if it prevents anal incontinence…

Babycentre advises us to do the following from 34 weeks pregnant onwards (although now I’m 32 weeks pregnant, I might start sooner rather than later!):

  • Sit in a semi-reclined position in a warm, comfortable area, with your knees bent and your legs apart. Lubricate your fingers, thumbs, and perineal area with vitamin E oil (from punctured vitamin E capsules), pure vegetable oil, or personal lubricant. Don’t use baby oil, mineral oil, or petroleum jelly.
  • Place your thumbs about 1 to 1 1/2 inches (to or just past your first knuckle) inside your vagina. Press down toward the rectum and toward the sides at the same time. Gently and firmly continue stretching until you feel a slight burn or tingling.
  • Hold this stretch for about two minutes.
  • Now slowly and gently massage the lower part of the vagina back and forth, hooking your thumbs onto the sides of your vagina and gently pulling the tissue forward, as your baby’s head will do during delivery. Keep this up for three to four minutes.
  • Finally, massage the tissue between the thumb and forefinger back and forth for about a minute.
  • Be gentle — a vigorous touch could cause bruising or swelling. During the massage, avoid pressure on the urethra (urinary opening) as this can lead to irritation or infection.

I’m going to need to reread that a few times before I fully get it and I would also suggest that unless you want your fella thinking that this is some kind of come on, you should take yourself off somewhere quiet and do it on your own!

There are also things you can do during labour to prevent tearing. Namely, try to resist pushing until you are properly ready, which can mean giving the baby time to move slowly down the birth canal and giving the perineum time to stretch.

Also, it’s said that if you have an episiotomy, you are more like to tear badly, i.e. 3rd or 4th degree tear. I don’t personally want to have an episiotomy, or an intervention for that matter, but for more information about episiotomies so you can make your own mind up, see Babycentre’s piece on episiotomy.

Tearing is potentially the thing that can get over looked during the birthing plan, but if you do talk to your midwife/doctor about your wishes about intervention they should certainly be able to advise about how to reduce tearing during labour and help you on the day too.