Impact of a perineal tear

A perineal tear sustained during childbirth can have a substantial effect on a woman’s future continence and sexual function. Some women may be reluctant to talk about any injuries sustained as they see it as a natural part of childbirth. Unfortunately, this can often result in many years of pain and distress.

Our experience of perineal tear claims

Whilst perineal tears are common, some are caused by inadequate or negligent treatment received during childbirth. This is where our team of clinical negligence solicitors can help you. Cecily, Carolyn and Laura have all successfully represented women making birth injury claims after suffering tears that have been either misdiagnosed or treated negligently.

What can cause a perineal tear or a vaginal tear?

Perineal tears or vaginal tears are a common occurrence in childbirth with around 85% of women suffering from some form of tear. Tears usually occur in the perineum, the area between your vagina and your anus and are usually a consequence of overstretching the soft tissue of the birth canal. Tears are most common in women having their first vaginal birth but the chances of it occurring can also increase when:

  • You have a large baby
  • Your labour is induced
  • The second stage of labour is longer than 1 hour
  • You have an assisted delivery (forceps or ventouse)
  • Your baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind your pubic bone
  • You have had an episiotomy (a small incision made in the perineum to increase the outlet space for the delivery of the baby)

The severity of a perineal injury can range from small abrasions to deep lacerations. Some tears will heal naturally and require very little treatment, whilst others will require surgical intervention. It is estimated that around 60-70% of women with a perineal injury will require some form of suturing. If a woman has sustained a tear, it is vital that this is found and treated correctly.

Types of perineal tears

Perineal tears are classified into 4 degrees:

First Degree tears - involves the skin of the perineum and the tissue around the opening of the vagina or the outmost layer of the vagina itself. No muscle is damaged. These usually heal quickly and naturally and cause little or no discomfort. Stitches are not often required.

Second Degree tears – these go slightly deeper and affect the perineal muscle as well as the skin. These tears need to be closed by stitching layer by layer and will usually take a couple of weeks to heal. Some discomfort will be apparent.

Third Degree tears – tear in the vaginal tissue, perineal skin and perineal muscle that extends to the muscle around the anus (anal sphincter). These can cause considerable pain for many months and can increase your risk of anal incontinence.

Fourth Degree tears – the most serious type of tear. This is the same as a third degree tear, but the tear goes through the anal sphincter and into the muscle underneath.

Contact us

Call the clinical negligence team on 01865 781000 for more information about your potential claim or send an email to


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.