From social to surgical: historical perspectives on perineal care during labour and birth

Women Birth. 2011 Sep;24(3):105-11. doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2010.09.002. Epub 2010 Oct 28.


A review of key historical texts that mentioned perineal care was undertaken from the time of Soranus (98-138 A.D.) to modern times as part of a PhD into perineal care. Historically, perineal protection and comfort were key priorities for midwives, most of whom traditionally practised under a social model of care. With the advent of the Man-Midwife in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the perineum became pathologised and eventually a site for routine surgical intervention--most notably seen in the widespread use of episiotomy. There were several key factors that led to the development of a surgical rather than a social model in perineal care. These factors included a move from upright to supine birth positions, the preparation of the perineum as a surgical site through perineal shaving and elaborate aseptic procedures; and the distancing of the woman from her support people, and most notably from her own perineum. In the last 30 years, in much of the developed world, there has been a re-emergence of care aimed at preserving and protecting the perineum. A dichotomy now exists with a dominant surgical model competing with the re-emerging social model of perineal care. Historical perspectives on perineal care can help us gain useful insights into past practices that could be beneficial for childbearing women today. These perspectives also inform future practice and research into perineal care, whilst making us cautious about political influences that could lead to harmful trends in clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Episiotomy / history*
  • Female
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Labor, Obstetric / history
  • Male
  • Midwifery / history*
  • Obstetrics / history*
  • Obstetrics / methods
  • Parturition
  • Perineum*
  • Pregnancy
  • Social Support