New Zealand midwives' management of perineal trauma during childbirth: A survey of practice
Background: Perineal trauma is the most common complication of vaginal birth and how this is treated has an impact on the incidence and duration of pain and dysfunction. Responsibility for the management of women’s perinea after uncomplicated births in New Zealand ordinarily rests with midwives although this is a little known aspect of practice. This study aimed to identify how midwives assess and manage second degree perineal trauma, the level to which their practice reflects best evidence, and what influences midwives’ decision-making. Methods: A descriptive approach using an online survey of 75 questions was used to access the population of 2910 New Zealand midwives. Inclusion criterion was current perineal management. Quantitative data were collected and associations examined using chi-square and Fisher’s exact test. Interval data were analysed with a two-sample t-test. Results: 818 midwives returned a questionnaire, 744 (25% of the midwifery population) met the inclusion criteria. Evidence-based suturing material for repair of the last second degree tear was used by 96%. Correct suturing technique throughout all layers of repair was 42%. Rectal examination during assessment was performed by 45% increasing to 86% after repair. Confidence to repair was directly related to years since midwifery qualification (p<.001) and self-employment (p<.001). The tear was left unsutured by 7% and associated with reduced confidence with repair (p<.001), lack of recent experience with repair (p<.001), and home birth (p=.002). Unsutured tears were shorter than sutured tears (vaginal/perineal length, p<.001; depth, p=.004) and associated with delayed healing (p=.034). Care to six weeks postpartum was provided by 377 midwives. Perineal analgesia included oral medication (76%), pelvic floor exercises (44%), cooling (38%), and suppositories (31%). Visual assessments of healing were performed by 84% of midwives, 49% of women, and 7% of support people. Complications of infection (2%), pain (2%), and healing delay (3%) were uncommon. Conclusions: This research has added a New Zealand midwifery practice perspective to the existing literature on second degree perineal care. Potential for reductions in perineal morbidity were identified, even though New Zealand midwifery care already has a low rate of complications compared to international studies.