An episiotomy is a surgical incision through the perineum made to enlarge the vagina and assist childbirth.

Prior to an episiotomy, lignocaine is injected into the subcutaneous tissues of the perineum and vagina. A right mediolateral cut is then made and pressure on the fetal head is maintained so that the delivery is slow and the head remains flexed, minimizing the possibility of the incision extending.

At one time it was believed that episiotomies reduced the incidence of anal sphincter tears. There is, however, little good evidence to support this and there is certainly no evidence to support routine episiotomy in all deliveries as a preventive measure against third- or fourth degree tears. Episiotomy rates are falling (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Falling Episiotomy Rates. A study involving 34,048 vaginal births at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pa, which showed a reduction in episiotomy rates from 69.6% in 1983 to 19.4% in 2000 0201

Midline episiotomy in particular does not protect the perineum or sphincters during childbirth and may impair anal continence. If an episiotomy is to be performed at all, a right (or less commonly left) posterolateral episiotomy is preferred (Figure 2).

Figure 2. A right medio-lateral episiotomy.

Diagrams and pictures of episiotomy and episiotomy repair are available  at moondragon - Please note that we would recommend a continuous subcuticular suture to close the vaginal skin.
   What are the indications for an episiotomy?
  • To protect the premature baby's head from undue pressure during birth.
  • To allow more space for the application of forceps.
  • To protect the baby's head if the perineum is tight and unyielding or is delaying the birth of the baby.
  • To speed up second stage.


How is it done?

The mother is asked to lie back so that a clear view of the perineum can be obtained.

  • Local anaesthetic is injected in several places close to where the tissues will be cut.
  • If the cut is made when the skin is numb from stretching, then no anaesthesia may be needed until stitching begins.
  • When the head is crowning, the doctor or midwife makes a surgical cut, using scissors, from the base of the vagina either out to the side (lateral) or down towards the anus (midline). Occasionally a J-shaped incision is made, to the side.

How is an episiotomy repaired?

These newer materials result in less short-term pain and less analgesic requirements than older materials such as catgut and non-absorbable sutures. Good perineal hygiene after delivery is likely to aid healing, and the use of ice packs. The perineum is infiltrated with 1% lignocaine unless an epidural is in situ or there has been a pudendal block or perineal infiltration prior to delivery. The apex of the vaginal incision or tear is identified and the first suture placed above this level.An episiotomy repair is demonstrated by Figures 3-5.Repair should be with an absorbable synthetic material (Dexon or Vicryl), using a continuous subcuticular technique to minimize short- and long-term problems.

Figure 3. The vaginal mucosal suture commences from just above the apex of the incision and the perineal musculature has an inverted suture.

Figure 4. The muscle is closed with a continuous suture.

Figure 5. The vaginal skin is closed with a continuous subcuticular suture.


Vaginal Tears


A tear may be less painful than an episiotomy and may also heal better.

Classification of spontaneous perineal tears:

  1. First degree Injury to the vaginal epithelium and vulval skin only.
  2. Second degree Injury to the perineal muscles, but not the anal sphincter.
  3. Third degree Injury to the perineum involving the anal sphincter complex.
  4. Fourth degree Injury to the perineum involving the anal sphincter complex and rectal mucosa.

Repairing a third or fourth degree tear.

This should ideally be by an experienced clinician, in theatre, with good analgesia, good lighting and the appropriate instruments. The anal mucosa should be repaired using interrupted dissolving sutures, with the knot of each suture in the lumen of the bowel. The internal sphincter is then identified and its ends approximated and sutured with a monofilament suture such as polydioxanone (PDS). Next, the ends of the external anal sphincter are identified and either approximated or overlapped, again with the monofilament suture. The rest is as described for episiotomy repair. Antibiotics, laxatives and fibre are important to allow healing. If secondary breakdown occurs, it may be necessary to perform a defunctioning colostomy before re-repairing.

Women delivering in the Swedish setting had a 23 times higher risk of OASR compared to Italy. An association between obstetric anal sphincter rupture and birth weight, gestational age, instrumental vaginal deliveries and duration of second stage was found. 0801

The aim of this web site is to provide a general guide and it is not intended as a substitute for a consultation with an appropriate specialist in respect of individual care and treatment.

David Viniker retired from active clinical practice in 2012.
In 1999, he setup this website - www.2womenshealth.com - to provide detailed
information many of his patients requested. The website attracts thousands of visitors every day from around the world.
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Links to reference abstracts.



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