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Episiotomies: An Often Unnecessary Incision Can Have Consequences

When it comes to childbirth, the wrong procedure at the wrong time can have a dangerous and long-lasting impact on Ohio families. Episiotomies are a good example. Although episiotomies are sometimes necessary to ensure a safe delivery, doctors often use them to speed up the birthing process - jeopardizing the mother's long-term health.

An episiotomy is an incision that begins at the vagina and crosses the perineum. In earlier decades, doctors used episiotomies routinely because they considered a clean cut to be safer than a tear during labor. However, numerous studies since then have concluded that episiotomies can actually have negative effects that last for years, including pain, sexual dysfunction and incontinence.

While episiotomies still have benefits for some women. The procedure can be important to deliver a baby quickly if it appears to be in distress. However, the range of scenarios in which the procedures are helpful appears to be shrinking as more research develops our knowledge. For example, a recent study did away with the myth that episiotomies can prevent brachial plexus injuries and shoulder dystocia.

Nevertheless, many doctors still use them on a regular basis - and often for the wrong reasons. The New York Times recently quoted an obstetrician who said "fifty percent of the episiotomies I've done were because my supervising staff wanted to go back to bed."

Risking long-term consequences from an unnecessary surgical procedure demonstrates a disturbing lack of interest in patient safety. Doctors who injure mothers by performing episiotomies for convenience may be committing medical malpractice.

Source: The New York Times, "What You Don't Know About Episiotomies Can Hurt You," Jennifer Margulis, Jan. 27, 2013

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