Perineum, a Greek word that means “around the anus”, refers to the area between the vaginal opening and the anus. In other words, it is the space between a woman’s legs that is left when she is lying down with her knees bent and apart. This area is also sometimes called the pelvic floor, which includes the muscles and tissues that support the organs in the pelvis. These muscles are sensitive and can be easily damaged and can weaken with age or after childbirth, which can lead to problems such as incontinence.
Role in the Childbirth
The perineum is an important part of the birthing process, especially during the pushing stage of labor, stretching and thinning out to allow the baby to pass during birth. The perineum, therefore, is a common site of injury and can be torn spontaneously during childbirth. This happens when the baby’s head puts too much pressure on the perineum and causes it to tear, thus the term perineal tear. In some cases, a qualified medical personnel performs an episiotomy, a surgical incision made in the perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening for delivery. However, this procedure is no longer recommended as it does not improve outcomes and can cause significant pain and damage.
To help prevent perineal tearing, many women give birth in a squatting or sitting position, which allows the baby to come out more slowly and decreases the amount of pressure on the perineum. Perineal massage during pregnancy and labor can also help stretch and prepare the perineum for childbirth.
This image shows how often the term ‘Perineum’ is used in relation to other, similar birth terms:
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