Obstetric Lacerations: Prevention and Repair

Michael J. Arnold, Kerry Sadler, Kelli Ann Leli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Obstetric lacerations are a common complication of vaginal delivery. Lacerations can lead to chronic pain and urinary and fecal incontinence. Perineal lacerations are defined by the depth of musculature involved, with fourth-degree lacerations disrupting the anal sphincter and the underlying rectal mucosa and first-degree lacerations having no perineal muscle involvement. Late third-trimester perineal massage can reduce lacerations in primiparous women; perineal support and massage and warm compresses during the second stage of labor can reduce anal sphincter injury. Conservative care of minor hemostatic first- and second-degree lacerations without anatomic distortion reduces pain, analgesia use, and dyspareunia. Minor hemostatic lesions with anatomic disruption can be repaired with surgical glue. Second-degree lacerations are best repaired with a single continuous suture. Lacerations involving the anal sphincter complex require additional expertise, exposure, and lighting; transfer to an operating room should be considered. Limited evidence suggests similar results from overlapping and end-to-end external sphincter repairs. Postdelivery care should focus on controlling pain, preventing constipation, and monitoring for urinary retention. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be administered as needed. Opiates should be avoided to decrease risk of constipation; need for opiates suggests infection or problem with the repair. Osmotic laxative use leads to earlier bowel movements and less pain during the first bowel movement. Simulation models are recommended for surgical technique instruction and maintenance, especially for third- and fourth-degree repairs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)745-752
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Family Physician
Issue number12
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2021


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