Introduction: Over 85% of women having a vaginal birth suffer some perineal trauma. Spontaneous tears requiring suturing are estimated to occur in at least a third of women in the UK and USA, with anal sphincter tears in 0.5% to 7% of women. Perineal trauma can lead to long-term physical and psychological problems.
Methods and outcomes: We conducted a systematic review and aimed to answer the following clinical questions: What are the effects of intrapartum surgical and non-surgical interventions on rates of perineal trauma? What are the effects of different methods and materials for primary repair of first- and second-degree tears and episiotomies? What are the effects of different methods and materials for primary repair of obstetric anal sphincter injuries (third- and fourth-degree tears)? We searched: Medline, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and other important databases up to April 2007 (BMJ Clinical Evidence reviews are updated periodically, please check our website for the most up-to-date version of this review). We included harms alerts from relevant organisations such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Results: We found 38 systematic reviews, RCTs, or observational studies that met our inclusion criteria. We performed a GRADE evaluation of the quality of evidence for interventions.
Conclusions: In this systematic review we present information relating to the effectiveness and safety of the following interventions: active pushing, spontaneous pushing, and sustained breath-holding (Valsalva) method of pushing; continuous support during labour; conventional suturing; different methods and materials for primary repair of obstetric anal sphincter injuries; episiotomies (midline and mediolateral incisions); epidural analgesia; forceps; methods of delivery ("hands-on" method, "hands poised"); water births; non-suturing of muscle and skin (or perineal skin alone); passive descent in the second stage of labour; positions (supine or lithotomy positions, upright position during delivery); restrictive or routine use of episiotomy; sutures (absorbable synthetic sutures, catgut sutures, continuous sutures, interrupted sutures); and vacuum extraction.