During pregnancy, a woman's uterus houses and protects the developing fetus. After approximately 40 weeks, the fetus reaches full term and is ready to be born.
At the time of delivery, the opening to the uterus, called the cervix, dilates to allow the baby to pass from the uterus into the vagina. The vagina is a muscular tube that expands to accommodate the head and shoulders of the baby while uterine contractions continue to push the baby outward.
Occasionally, the vaginal opening is too narrow to allow the baby to be born without tearing the vagina. When this risk is present, a procedure called an episiotomy may be performed.
During an episiotomy, a doctor makes an incision at the bottom of the vagina. This enlarges the vaginal opening to prevent vaginal tears as the baby's head is delivered. Following delivery, the incision is then stitched closed for healing. However, this procedure lengthens the time of the mother's recovery.
There are several potential complications associated with this procedure that should be discussed with a doctor prior to the procedure.