AskDefine | Define episiotomy

Dictionary Definition

episiotomy n : surgical incision of the perineum to enlarge the vagina and so facilitate delivery during childbirth

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a surgical incision through the perineum made to enlarge the vagina and assist childbirth

Extensive Definition

An episiotomy () is an surgical incision through the perineum made to enlarge the vagina and assist childbirth. The incision can be midline or at an angle from the posterior end of the vulva, is performed under local anaesthetic (pudendal anesthesia) and is sutured closed after delivery. It is one of the most common medical procedures performed on women, and although its routine use in childbirth has steadily declined in recent decades, it is still widely practiced in Latin America.


Many physicians use episiotomies because they believe that it will lessen perineal trauma, minimize postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction by reducing anal sphincter muscle damage, reduce the loss of blood at delivery, and protect against neonatal trauma. In many cases though, episiotomies cause all of these problems. Research has shown that natural tears typically are less severe.
Slow delivery of the head, in between contractions will result in the least perineal damage. Episiotomy is indicated if:
  • the baby's shoulders are stuck (When a baby's shoulders are stuck they are stuck behind bony pelvis, not soft tissue, so this indication is disputed)

Controversy about common usage

In various countries, routine episiotomy has been accepted medical practice for many years. Various urban legends circulate on the fact that after very rapid natural births, young doctors would still make episiotomies so as not to displease their professors.
Since about the 1960s, routine episiotomies have been rapidly losing popularity among obstetricians and midwives in Europe, Australia and the United States. A nationwide US population study suggested that 31% of women having babies in U.S. hospitals received episiotomies in 1997, compared with 56% in 1979. In Latin America it's still popular, where it's done on 90% of hospital births and in most cases without the mother's consent. There, routine episiotomy is a major cause of infections, some of them fatal .
Recent studies indicate that routine episiotomies should not be performed, as they increase morbidity. This procedure is not helpful for routine patients Having an episiotomy may increase perineal pain in the postpartum period, resulting in trouble defecating, particularly in midline episiotomies . In addition it may complicate sexual intercourse by making it painful and replacing erectile tissues in the vulva with fibrotic tissue.
In cases where an episiotomy is indicated, a mediolateral incision may be preferable to a median (midline) incision as the latter is associated with a higher risk of injury to the anal sphincter and the rectum.

Impacts on sexuality

Some midwives compare routine episiotomy to female circumcision. One study found that women who underwent episiotomy reported more painful intercourse and insufficient lubrication 12-18 months after birth, but did not find any problems with orgasm or arousal.

Informed consent

Expectant mothers frequently make "birth plans" during their antenatal care, and are generally encouraged to discuss their views on episiotomy with their caregivers, or as early as possible in labour. In the final stages of delivery the midwife or obstetrician may not have time to discuss the benefits, risks and alternatives without endangering the mother or baby. However, staff restrictions or complications in labour often mean that these plans have to be altered in the course of the birth.


Controlled delivery of the head that allows slow gradual stretching of the perineal tissue can help in minimising damage to the perineum.
Perineal massage beginning around the 34th week has been shown to reduce perineal damage by 6%.
A perineal dilator can be used to stretch the perineal tissue gradually and train it in preparation for first births. The "Epi-no Birth Trainer" consists of a small inflatable silicone balloon pumped with the same pump as a sphygmomanometer. The Epi-no device has been shown to reduce perineal damage by 50% at first births.


episiotomy in Bosnian: Epiziotomija
episiotomy in German: Dammschnitt
episiotomy in Croatian: Epiziotomija
episiotomy in Spanish: Episiotomía
episiotomy in French: Épisiotomie
episiotomy in Indonesian: Episiotomi
episiotomy in Italian: Episiotomia
episiotomy in Macedonian: Епизиотомија
episiotomy in Dutch: Episiotomie
episiotomy in Polish: Nacięcie krocza
episiotomy in Portuguese: Episiotomia
episiotomy in Russian: Эпизиотомия
episiotomy in Finnish: Episiotomia
episiotomy in Chinese: 會陰切開術
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