Let’s be real. The words “vagina” and “tear” are not two words that any woman wants to see in the same sentence. It’s very common to get a vaginal tear when you give birth, but there are other ways it can happen.
Your body is amazing and, while a tear is scary at the time, you will heal.
Here’s our guide to the degrees of vaginal tearing that can happen, the causes, and how to look after yourself as you recover.
In this article 📝
- What is a vaginal tear?
- What causes a vaginal tear?
- Vaginal tear treatment
- How long does it take a vaginal tear to heal?
What is a vaginal tear?
A vaginal tear is an injury to your vagina that can extend along your perineum (the skin between your vulva and anus).
In rare cases, vaginal tears can also affect the muscles inside your rectum.
Doctors talk about degrees of vaginal tearing to explain how severe the injury is and what treatment it needs. Let’s start by taking a deep breath and looking at these in more detail:
A graze means that the skin is damaged but not torn.
What is a first-degree vaginal tear?
First-degree vaginal tears involve both the skin of the perineum and the skin of the vagina.
Second-degree vaginal tear
These tears extend beyond the skin, deeper into the muscle of the vaginal wall and the perineum.
Third-degree vaginal tear
A third-degree tear involves the vagina, the perineum, and the muscle around the anus.
Fourth-degree vaginal tear
Fourth-degree tears are the most severe (and also, happily, the least likely to happen). They affect the vagina, perineum, anus, and extend into the wall of the rectum.
What causes a vaginal tear?
Vaginal tears during childbirth
Most vaginal tears happen during childbirth. Your doctor or midwife will do everything they can to try and minimize tearing.
This is the reason they might hold a warm compress to your perineum while you push, or get you to pant through contractions – it’s all to encourage your skin to stretch.
But birth is unpredictable, and tears are still very common.
Up to 90% of first-time mamas have a graze, tear, or episiotomy (where the skin of the perineum is deliberately cut to prevent a tear from happening).
The good news is though, that only one to three percent of women suffer a third- or fourth-degree tear.
If you do tear, it’s really important to remember that it’s very common and definitely not your fault.
Vaginal tears during birth are more likely if:
- This is your first vaginal birth
- Your baby arrives quickly (i.e. you have a very short second (pushing) stage of labor
- Your baby is in a face-up or back-to-back position for delivery
- Your doctors need to use forceps to help you deliver your baby
Vaginal tears during sex
While some sports, especially horse riding and cycling, can cause vaginal injuries, the most common other main cause of vaginal tears is sex, especially if you’re using toys.
Although they’re usually more minor than tears from childbirth, vaginal tears after sex can still sometimes need stitches and plenty of time to heal.
It might also be worth purchasing a new bottle of lube when you feel ready to get back in the bedroom.
Vaginal tear treatment
Doctors treat vaginal tears by repairing the damaged skin and muscle.
Grazes and first-degree tears are the easiest to treat, and may not even need stitches.
Because second-degree tears involve several layers of tissue, they do need to be stitched (don’t worry, “husband stitches” aren’t done nearly as much these days).
If it’s an injury from childbirth, though, this can usually be done under local anesthetic in the delivery room.
More third- and fourth-degree tears are repaired in the OR under general anesthetic because it’s a specialist procedure.
If you’ve torn badly, you might also have physiotherapy to strengthen your pelvic floor after the procedure.
These exercises will also help if you have any incontinence and will help to bring back the feeling “down there”.
How long does it take a vaginal tear to heal?
It’s hard to give a definite answer here, because your recovery time depends on how severe the injury was. And of course, every woman’s body is different and will heal in its own time.
After a first- or second-degree tear, you’ll probably feel better once your stitches have dissolved and be pretty much back to feeling like yourself again by your postpartum check-up.
For more severe tears, you may need several months of rest, healing, and physiotherapy before you fully recover. In very rare cases, your doctor might recommend further surgery to fully correct the injury.
The long recovery process can be very frustrating, especially if you’re trying to look after yourself while caring for a newborn baby.
Thankfully, there are some things that you can do to help, or at least to make yourself more comfortable as you get better.
How do you heal a tear down there?
- Rest: Not so easy when you have a newborn, but sleep speeds up healing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support from your partner, family or friends to make sure you get a chance to rest.
- Healthy eating: Recovering takes energy, so eating lots of healthy food will help your body do its job.
- Gentle exercise: Stop when it hurts, but gentle walking gets your blood flowing, which can also make you heal faster. You can ask your doctor which exercise is safe and which you should save for after you’ve recovered.
And here’s how to look after yourself while your body heals:
-** Cushions, cushions, cushions:** Perching on a pillow, a hemorrhoid ring, or even a pool ring will take the pressure off your stitches.
- Ice it up: Sitting on a covered ice pack can be soothing and can also help if your stitches are itchy. Itching means healing, but it’s really uncomfortable at the time.
- Keep it clean: Use a peri bottle when you go to the bathroom and squirt water onto your vulva while you pee. This will stop your urine from burning. Afterwards, pat yourself dry with toilet paper instead of wiping.
- Take a dip: Sitz baths are shallow, cool baths where you soak your bottom for 10-15 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. Note: most doctors would recommend that you avoid full baths until after your stitches have completely healed.
- Take medications: Pain relievers can reduce inflammation and make you feel more comfortable, helping you to rest well. Stool softeners or laxatives can also save you from straining your stitches when you “go”. Just be sure to ask your doctor about what medications you can take, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Call your healthcare provider urgently if your bleeding or pain gets worse or if you spike a fever. These can be signs of infection.
Whatever the reason for your vaginal tear, give yourself time, be kind to yourself, and trust that you won’t feel like this forever.
It’s crazy that even though it’s very common, tearing can still be a taboo subject.
If you ever feel alone in your recovery, you can find other women in the Peanut community who’ve been through the same thing and can give you some extra support.
💡 More from The 411:
Online Birthing Classes: Are They Right For You?
Tips for a More Confident Birth: 4 Things to Do Before You’re Due
Choose Your Own (Birth) Adventure: 3 Must-Ask Questions
Birth Plan Template: Tips & Advice
What to Know About Your Vagina After Birth
Your Guide to Having a Vaginal Birth