In females, the perineum is the area of skin that stretches from the opening of the vagina round to the back passage. It is a highly sensitive area and contains many nerve endings.
The condition of the perineum plays a role in labour and birth as this is the area that may tear once a baby's head begins to emerge. In some cases, a woman's perineum will be cut, and this is known as an episiotomy.
While health professionals prefer to avoid performing an episiotomy, it is often done if a baby is in distress; if the woman needs an instrumental birth, or if the perineum is showing signs of tearing.
If mother and baby are coping well with the final stages of birth, the mother will be told to pant during those final stages to help control the speed at which the baby's head is delivered, which will reduce the chances of tearing.
Additionally, there are some steps women can take during their pregnancy to minimise the chances of tearing. These include massaging the area with wheat germ or sweet almond oil to keep the perineum soft and supple.
Practising pelvic floor exercises throughout pregnancy is also important as these will help to condition and strengthen the entire area for birth and beyond.