Episiotomy is a procedure in which the skin between the vagina and anus is cut. (This area is called the perineum.) Episiotomy is done occasionally to enlarge the vaginal opening so that a baby can be more easily delivered.
Just before the baby is born, the obstetrician numbs the vaginal area opening and makes one of two cuts:
- A mediolateral cut is angled down away from the vagina and into the muscle.
- A midline cut is made straight down between the vagina and anus.
The cut makes the opening to the vagina bigger. The cut is stitched closed after the baby and placenta have been delivered.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
Episiotomies were once routinely performed to prevent vaginal tears during delivery. Today, routine episiotomies are not recommended.
However, episiotomies may still be performed when there is a complicated delivery. An episiotomy may be needed if the baby's head or shoulders are too big for the mother's vaginal opening, or the baby is in a breech position (feet or buttocks coming first) and there is a problem during delivery.
It may also be needed to speed the delivery process if there is concern about the baby's heart rate.
Many studies have found that the procedure offers no benefit in routine deliveries, and there is no evidence to suggest that it improves a woman's sexual function. It has also been found that women who have an episiotomy have more intercourse-related pain after pregnancy and take longer to resume having sex after childbirth.
If an episiotomy cut is made, there is more of a chance that it will become a larger tear or even extend into the muscles around the rectum. This can lead to later problems with controlling gas and sometimes stool. When no episiotomy is made and a woman is just allowed to tear, these problems are less likely to happen.
Additional risks include:
Before the Procedure
After the Procedure
An episiotomy usually heals without problems and may be easier to repair than multiple tears.
You can resume normal activities shortly after the birth. The stitches are absorbed by the body and do not need to be removed. You can relieve pain and discomfort with medication and ice in the first 24 hours, followed by warm baths.
Hartmann K, Viswanathan M, Palmieri R, Gartlehner G, Thorp J Jr, Lohr KN. Outcomes of routine episiotomy: a systematic review. JAMA. 2005;293(17):2141-2148.
American College of Obstetricians-Gynecologists. Episiotomy. Clinical Management Guidelines for Obstetrician-Gynecologists. ACOG Practice Bulletin. 2006;71.
Carroli G, Mignini L. Episiotomy for vaginal birth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2009;1:CD000081.
Frankman EA, Wang L, Bunker CH, Lowder JL. Episiotomy in the United States: has anything changed? Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009;200:573.e1-573.e7.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. ©1997-2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Your Guide to "Me Time"
The Trouble With Tea
Breast Cancer Surgery: What Are the Options?
Be Smart About Sex (at Any Age)
Is the Flu Different for Women and Men?
Sign Up for Free Newsletters
Ask Your Doctor the RIGHT Questions!
the most from your doctor visit.
Emailed right to you!
The Ask Your Doctor email series
may contain sponsored content.
18+, US residents only please.
Explore Original Articles About...
Get the MOST from QualityHealth
- Top Searches
- 1. Arthritis Management: Nature Heals
- 2. 5 Digestive To-Dos
- 3. Men: Should You Shave It or Leave It?
- 4. Today's Top Fitness Trends
- 5. Sugar and Osteoarthritis : The Link
- 6. Can't Afford Your Hospital Bills?
- 7. Stay Energized All Day Long
- 8. Phobias: Who Has Them and Why?
- 9. What If Your EpiPen Fails?
- 10. 5 Costly Medical Billing Mistakes
- 1. Ice Falls Can Cause Serious Injuries
- 2. Can Inactivity Act Like a Disease?
- 3. Kale Snack Recipe for Diabetics
- 4. How Running Affects Arthritis
- 5. Sugar and Your Immunity System
- 6. Do Weight Loss Supplements Work?
- 7. 5 Super Foods for Spring
- 8. The Hazards of Reusable Bags
- 9. How to Avoid Ingrown Hairs
- 10. Health Tip: Constantly Change Shoes
- 1. 4 Common Treatments for Epilepsy
- 2. What Does a Urogynecologist Do?
- 3. GERD Without Heartburn? It's Possible
- 4. Graston Technique: Can It Work on You?
- 5. Music Therapy Can Help Autism
- 6. 8 Ways to Fight MS-Related Fatigue
- 7. Can You Still Bleed After Menopause?
- 8. Be Your Own Health Care Advocate
- 9. Why Is Syphillis on the Rise?
- 10. Ideal Weight vs. Happy Weight
The material on the QualityHealth Web site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment provided by a physician or other qualified health provider. See additional information.