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Background:

The purpose of this study was to produce a minimum estimate of the prevalence of episiotomy use in Canada, and to investigate the trend in its use between 1981/1982 and 1993/1994.

Method:

A retrospective population case series study was conducted using hospital discharge abstracts. Outcome measures were the count of episiotomies performed during a 12-month period and the episiotomy rate per 100 vaginal births.

Results:

For more than a decade, official statistics have significantly underreported episiotomy use by as much as 50 percent. In 1993/1994 at least 37.7 percent of women giving birth vaginally in Canada are known to have received an episiotomy. Between 1981/1982 and 1993/1994 its prevalence declined 29.1 percent, with the greatest decline occurring during the 1990s. This decline did not result from changes in parity in the population. The decrease in episiotomy use during this 13-year period is more than twice that found in the United States (a decline of only 13.6%).

Conclusions:

The reporting of official statistics on obstetric procedures in Canada should be modified to include all known cases of episiotomy. The observed downward trend in the rate of this procedure is encouraging, and is in the direction of evidence-based recommendations advocating its restrictive use. (BIRTH 24:3, September 1997)