A third- or fourth-degree tear during childbirth

Most women, up to 9 in 10 (90%), tear to some extent during childbirth.

Most tears occur in the perineum, the area between the vaginal opening and the anus (back passage). They may be:

  • first degree tears – small, skin-deep tears which usually heal naturally
  • second degree tears – deeper tears affecting the muscle of the perineum as well as the skin. These usually require stitches.

For some women with a tear, up to 9 in 100 (9%), the tear may be more extensive. This may be:

  • a third-degree tear extending downwards from the vaginal wall and perineum to the anal sphincter, the muscle that controls the anus.
  • a fourth-degree tear extending to the anal canal as well as the rectum (further into the anus).


The leaflet can be downloaded as a pdf by clicking on the link below.