Background: Episiotomy is done to prevent severe perineal tears, but its routine use has been questioned. The relative effects of midline compared with midlateral episiotomy are unclear.
Objectives: The objective of this review was to assess the effects of restrictive use of episiotomy compared with routine episiotomy during vaginal birth.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group trials register.
Selection criteria: Randomised trials comparing restrictive use of episiotomy with routine use of episiotomy; restrictive use of mediolateral episiotomy versus routine mediolateral episiotomy; restrictive use of midline episiotomy versus routine midline episiotomy; and use of midline episiotomy versus mediolateral episiotomy.
Data collection and analysis: Trial quality was assessed and data were extracted independently by two reviewers.
Main results: Six studies were included. In the routine episiotomy group, 72.7% (1752/2409) of women had episiotomies, while the rate in the restrictive episiotomy group was 27.6% (673/2441). Compared with routine use, restrictive episiotomy involved less posterior perineal trauma (relative risk 0. 88, 95% confidence interval 0.84 to 0.92), less suturing (relative risk 0.74, 95% confidence interval 0.71 to 0.77) and fewer healing complications (relative risk 0.69, 95% confidence interval 0.56 to 0.85). Restrictive episiotomy was associated with more anterior perineal trauma (relative risk 1.79, 95% 1.55 to 2.07). There was no difference in severe vaginal or perineal trauma (relative risk 1.11, 95% confidence interval 0.83 to 1.50); dyspareunia (relative risk 1.02, 95% confidence interval 0.90 to 1.16); urinary incontinence (relative risk 0.98, 95% confidence interval 0.79 to 1.20) or several pain measures. Results for restrictive versus routine mediolateral versus midline episiotomy were similar to the overall comparison.
Reviewer's conclusions: Restrictive episiotomy policies appear to have a number of benefits compared to routine episiotomy policies. There is less posterior perineal trauma, less suturing and fewer complications, no difference for most pain measures and severe vaginal or perineal trauma, but there was an increased risk of anterior perineal trauma with restrictive episiotomy.