If you’re reading this right now and are close to giving birth, chances are you’ve thought about vaginal tearing.
Am I right?
Aside from wondering what contractions really feel like during labor, tearing during childbirth was one of my fears.
According to ACOG, between 53 to 79% of vaginal deliveries will include some type of laceration (vaginal trauma).
While these numbers may seem alarming, the good news is that most of those lacerations are superficial and require little to no stitching at all.
And many of them can be treated naturally at home.
Although it’s pretty much impossible to predict whether or not you’ll experience tearing during childbirth, there are some things you can do during labor to minimize the risk of perineal trauma.
1. Relax your muscles
Our bodies tense up in a natural response to pain.
To achieve a successful natural birth, avoid damaging your pelvic floor, slowing down or stalling your labor, and potentially increasing your risk of medical intervention, it is important that you relax your body.
You want all of your muscles and tissues to remain as loose and elastic as possible so that when you begin to experience the ring of fire as your baby’s head crowns, you don’t tear your vagina.
One of the major keys to experiencing an overall relaxed birth is laboring at home for as long as possible.
Those feel-good hormones that are so easily released when you feel safe and comfortable will help make your baby’s birth a breeze.
I was a ball of nerves during labor with my first baby.
I was so worried about pooping (something that very commonly happens during labor) while attempting to push at the same time.
I had no idea that I was forcing my pelvic floor muscles into a round of tug-of-war.
The second time around, I knew what not to do.
I was just focused on surrendering and allowing my body to do its job.
Even as the burning sensation increased when my baby’s head started crowning, I tried my best to relax as much as possible.
As a result, I had a ton of energy afterwards and my postpartum recovery was a breeze.
Relaxing your muscles during labor loosens up your body, encouraging it to produce more oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates contractions, and helps labor progress smoothly.
From the tips of your toes to your brows, muscle relaxation also promotes proper breathing which is important because when you tense up your muscles in response to pain and hold your breath, your baby gets deprived of oxygen.
This can cause fetal distress.
During the second stage of labor, also known as the pushing stage, as you begin to feel pressure on your rectum and perineum, you may naturally tense up your pelvic floor muscles.
What you want to do instead of this is, relax those muscles as if you’re peeing.
When you hold your pee, you are tensing up your muscles, preventing your bladder from emptying itself.
During labor, you need to do the exact opposite.
2. Listen to your body
How do you listen to your body during labor? By simply relaxing and surrendering yourself to the process.
Allow your body to go through and endure the natural physiological process of labor without resisting (tensing up).
For example, when you start experiencing the ring of fire as your baby’s head crowns, listen to your body and stop pushing.
Relax and allow your body to stretch. No need to fight it.
By doing so, your body is open and receptive to the contractions, as opposed to holding back and preventing it from doing its job.
One of the benefits of natural labor that I really enjoyed, was being able to feel everything that was taking place inside my body.
From the descent of my babies through the birth canal to the stretching of my vagina to accommodate them, feeling that process allowed me to identify what my body needed.
It’s important to follow that natural flow rather than to be coached or to do “too much” on your own.
By doing so, you are keeping the same pace as your body, preserving your energy, and reducing the risk of medical intervention and tearing during childbirth.
When your baby’s head begins to crown, you will start feeling a burning or stinging sensation in your vagina.
This is known as the ring of fire.
That’s your body telling you to slow down, as your vaginal tissues stretch to accommodate your baby’s head and body.
Pushing while your baby’s head is crowning will probably cause you to tear.
Instead, slow down and breathe through the stretching.
Not pushing during the ring of fire stage is crucial, as your contractions will expel your baby.
3. Control your breathing
Whatever you do, don’t hold your breath.
In fact, holding your breath is one thing you should absolutely avoid for a successful natural birth.
Breathing has a direct impact on your body’s response and ability to labor efficiently.
“Purple pushing” is the term that is commonly used when describing holding your breath as you push during labor.
This method of pushing goes against your body’s natural instincts. It increases the risk of tearing, fetal distress and medical intervention, and lowers your blood oxygen levels.
Poor breathing directly affects your baby by lowering the amount of blood carrying oxygen to him/her so it is important that you breathe while you push.
Some women prefer taking quicker, controlled shallow breaths, while others prefer longer, and deeper breaths.
Either way is fine as long as it’s controlled.
Rushed, erratic, shallow breathing causes an increase in the amount of adrenaline released into your body, tightening up your body, and increasing your sensitivity to pain.
4. Breathe your baby out
Contrary to what we’ve been told for many many years, you don’t have to push with all of your might to deliver your baby.
Your body is well able to do so on its own.
Did you know that the human body can birth a baby even if the mother happens to be in a coma? Yep.
You really don’t need to push unless you feel an irresistible urge to do so.
Relax your bottom and breathe your baby out, pushing only when prompted by your body so as to prevent exhaustion, trauma, and medical interventions.
For me, pushing as my body led me to do, helped relieve the pain and pressure I felt in my bottom.
5. Be in an upright position
Positioning plays a big role in how you birth your baby. Laying down flat on your back (like you see in the movies) is one of the top things you should avoid doing for a successful natural birth.
Any position where your pelvis is perpendicular to the ground facilitates a smoother birthing experience.
Some examples of this are: the standing, squatting, and on all fours positions. I instinctively birthed both my children in the squatting position.
If you’re concerned about tearing while in the squatting position, look at this study.
You want to take advantage of the pull of gravity.
Being in an upright position opens up your pelvis, and encourages the descent of your baby while reducing your pushing efforts and lowering your risk of tearing.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love our Pushing During Labor 101 post, where you’ll learn about 7 other things you should know about pushing during labor!
Or you might want to download our handy labor cheatsheet, The Natural Labor Playbook. Read it, print it, and throw it in your hospital bag so you can go into childbirth with a game plan for each stage of labor.
I hope that you found these five key tips on how to prevent tearing during childbirth helpful.
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