Most vaginal births are associated with trauma to the genital tract. The morbidity associated with perineal trauma can be significant, especially when it comes to third- and fourth-degree tears. Different interventions including perineal massage, warm or cold compresses, and perineal management techniques have been used to prevent trauma. This is an update of a Cochrane review that was first published in 2011.
To assess the effect of perineal techniques during the second stage of labour on the incidence and morbidity associated with perineal trauma.
We searched Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth's Trials Register (26 September 2016) and reference lists of retrieved studies.
Published and unpublished randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials evaluating perineal techniques during the second stage of labour. Cross-over trials were not eligible for inclusion.
Three review authors independently assessed trials for inclusion, extracted data and evaluated methodological quality. We checked data for accuracy.
Twenty-two trials were eligible for inclusion (with 20 trials involving 15,181 women providing data). Overall, trials were at moderate to high risk of bias; none had adequate blinding, and most were unclear for both allocation concealment and incomplete outcome data. Interventions compared included the use of perineal massage, warm and cold compresses, and other perineal management techniques.Most studies did not report data on our secondary outcomes. We downgraded evidence for risk of bias, inconsistency, and imprecision for all comparisons. Hands off (or poised) compared to hands onHands on or hands off the perineum made no clear difference in incidence of intact perineum (average risk ratio (RR) 1.03, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.95 to 1.12, two studies, Tau² 0.00, I² 37%, 6547 women; moderate-quality evidence), first-degree perineal tears (average RR 1.32, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.77, two studies, 700 women; low-quality evidence), second-degree tears (average RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.47 to 1.28, two studies, 700 women; low-quality evidence), or third- or fourth-degree tears (average RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.21 to 2.26, five studies, Tau² 0.92, I² 72%, 7317 women; very low-quality evidence). Substantial heterogeneity for third- or fourth-degree tears means these data should be interpreted with caution. Episiotomy was more frequent in the hands-on group (average RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.43 to 0.79, Tau² 0.07, I² 74%, four studies, 7247 women; low-quality evidence), but there was considerable heterogeneity between the four included studies.There were no data for perineal trauma requiring suturing. Warm compresses versus control (hands off or no warm compress)A warm compress did not have any clear effect on the incidence of intact perineum (average RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.21; 1799 women; four studies; moderate-quality evidence), perineal trauma requiring suturing (average RR 1.14, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.66; 76 women; one study; very low-quality evidence), second-degree tears (average RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.58 to 1.56; 274 women; two studies; very low-quality evidence), or episiotomy (average RR 0.86, 95% CI 0.60 to 1.23; 1799 women; four studies; low-quality evidence). It is uncertain whether warm compress increases or reduces the incidence of first-degree tears (average RR 1.19, 95% CI 0.38 to 3.79; 274 women; two studies; I² 88%; very low-quality evidence).Fewer third- or fourth-degree perineal tears were reported in the warm-compress group (average RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.79; 1799 women; four studies; moderate-quality evidence). Massage versus control (hands off or routine care)The incidence of intact perineum was increased in the perineal-massage group (average RR 1.74, 95% CI 1.11 to 2.73, six studies, 2618 women; I² 83% low-quality evidence) but there was substantial heterogeneity between studies). This group experienced fewer third- or fourth-degree tears (average RR 0.49, 95% CI 0.25 to 0.94, five studies, 2477 women; moderate-quality evidence).There were no clear differences between groups for perineal trauma requiring suturing (average RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.61, one study, 76 women; very low-quality evidence), first-degree tears (average RR 1.55, 95% CI 0.79 to 3.05, five studies, Tau² 0.47, I² 85%, 537 women; very low-quality evidence), or second-degree tears (average RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.55 to 2.12, five studies, Tau² 0.32, I² 62%, 537 women; very low-quality evidence). Perineal massage may reduce episiotomy although there was considerable uncertainty around the effect estimate (average RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.29 to 1.03, seven studies, Tau² 0.43, I² 92%, 2684 women; very low-quality evidence). Heterogeneity was high for first-degree tear, second-degree tear and for episiotomy - these data should be interpreted with caution. Ritgen's manoeuvre versus standard careOne study (66 women) found that women receiving Ritgen's manoeuvre were less likely to have a first-degree tear (RR 0.32, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.69; very low-quality evidence), more likely to have a second-degree tear (RR 3.25, 95% CI 1.73 to 6.09; very low-quality evidence), and neither more nor less likely to have an intact perineum (RR 0.17, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.31; very low-quality evidence). One larger study reported that Ritgen's manoeuvre did not have an effect on incidence of third- or fourth-degree tears (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.96,1423 women; low-quality evidence). Episiotomy was not clearly different between groups (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.63 to 1.03, two studies, 1489 women; low-quality evidence). Other comparisonsThe delivery of posterior versus anterior shoulder first, use of a perineal protection device, different oils/wax, and cold compresses did not show any effects on perineal outcomes. Only one study contributed to each of these comparisons, so data were insufficient to draw conclusions.
Moderate-quality evidence suggests that warm compresses, and massage, may reduce third- and fourth-degree tears but the impact of these techniques on other outcomes was unclear or inconsistent. Poor-quality evidence suggests hands-off techniques may reduce episiotomy, but this technique had no clear impact on other outcomes. There were insufficient data to show whether other perineal techniques result in improved outcomes.Further research could be performed evaluating perineal techniques, warm compresses and massage, and how different types of oil used during massage affect women and their babies. It is important for any future research to collect information on women's views.