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What is an episiotomy, and what are the risks of this procedure?

During childbirth, you might have to have an episiotomy. While this procedure is considered outdated by some, it is still used in some cases. In the United States, approximately 40 percent of vaginal births will need this procedure.

What is an episiotomy?

An episiotomy is a procedure in which the perineum, or the area between the vagina and the anus, is cut with scissors so that the skin and muscles don't tear. It is done to help enlarge the birth canal when the extra is needed for the baby to come out. It is sometimes necessary if a vacuum or forceps will be used to deliver the baby. Generally, it isn't known if a woman will need this procedure or not until she is actually in labor. After the baby is born, the episiotomy is stitched closed.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Because the procedure involves cutting into the muscle and skin, there is a chance of bleeding. Since there is an open wound that is stitched up, there is a chance of infection. There is also a chance that the anal sphincter will be damaged if the incision is a median incision, which is a cut straight from the vagina toward the anus. That risk is lessened if a mediolateral, or angled incision is made. An episiotomy is likely to cause pain, and it takes four to six weeks to heal.

It might be possible to avoid an episiotomy by doing Kegel exercises and perineal massage. That isn't always possible. It is important that any doctor who is considering an episiotomy informs the woman of the possible risks, as well as the benefits, so that she can make an informed choice. If you weren't informed of this, had an episiotomy that you didn't consent to or suffered from complications after the procedure that could have been prevented, you might want to explore your option to seek compensation.

Source: HealthPages.org, "Episiotomy," Cindy Schmidler, accessed Sep. 23, 2016

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