It’s easy to think that the entire labor process is the hard part, but the truth is the toughest part is often called the ring of fire. If you ask any mom who gave vaginal birth, they’ll tell you this transition time is more than likely their least favorite.
With a name like that, you know it will be a challenge!
The third trimester is one of the most exciting times; you know you’re close to meeting your baby. You prepare your birthing plan, pack your hospital bag, and take birthing and breastfeeding classes.
Chances are you’ll hear the term “ring of fire during labor” and wonder what it means. Your mom friends may tell you that it feels like your vagina is burning.
Way to make you hyped for birth, right?
While all labors and deliveries are different, all women feel some discomfort, so it’s important for you to come prepared knowing what you may (or may not) experience.
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What is the Ring of Fire in Childbirth?
The ring of fire is when your baby crowns during labor; your baby descends through the birth canal and starts to come out of your vagina. It’s referred to as the ring of fire because of the burning sensation most commonly felt during this process.
Burning = the ring of fire.
Crowning is one of the final parts of labor and delivery, so when you feel this, you know you’ll meet your baby soon. It marks the time when your baby comes out into the world and leaves your womb.
It would be quite a beautiful time if only it didn’t hurt quite so bad!
The word “crowning” comes from the idea that the your vaginal skin stretches around your baby’s head like a crown. Traditionally, this is the time when doctors perform an episiotomy because the skin is stretched and most cannot feel the scissors.
However, an episiotomy is no longer recommended during delivery. The best thing to do is learn how to prevent tearing naturally during birth.
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When Does Crowning Happen During Birth?
Crowning is one of the four stages of childbirth, so it’s important to know all of the phases of labor and delivery to answer this question.
Here are the four stages of labor.
- Early & active labor when you transition from 0-10 centimeters dilated.
- The descent of your baby down the birth canal and out the vagina, which is when crowning happens.
- The delivery of the placenta after birth
- Postpartum recovery process
Crowning happens during the second stage of labor and delivery. Consistent contractions that last several hours or a day (lets hope not longer than that!) cause your cervix to dilate and efface fully, and your baby begins the descent into the vaginal canal.
Once your baby comes down the birth canal, the crowning process begins, which is when you feel the ring of fire. This doesn’t last too long, and most women go through it with little issues.
Knowing that your baby’s little head is about to come out into the world is encouraging, so most women make it through, full of excitement and anticipation. You’re about to meet your baby!
What Does the Ring of Fire Feel Like During Birth?
When your baby starts to crown, most women describe the ring of fire as a burning sensation. Some say it is a strong burning sensation with bits of stinging as your vaginal open stretches to allow for your baby to pass.
Others say that this pain eventually moves into a dull, numbing pain because the nerves on the skin are so stretched that they become unresponsive. Our brains do this to prevent your body from feeling overwhelmed.
If you have an epidural, the pain won’t be nearly as bad; it may feel like a dull burning sensation or added pressure.
However, you could always be one of the lucky few who have little pain during crowning. That’s not typical, but you can always hope you are one of the lucky ones!
Related: How to Become Less Scared of Childbirth
How Long does the Ring of Fire Last During Labor?
The time you experience the ring of fire during labor varies from woman to woman.
Some women experience the burning or stinging sensation for only a few seconds, while others have it for a few minutes. It hinges on the labor you are having.
Women who picked epidurals for pain management may feel more pressure rather than a burning sensation. If it does burn, it’s not going to be as intense. So, the amount of pain reliever you receive will change your experience.
Can You Avoid Feeling the Ring of Fire in Childbirth?
There is no proven way to avoid feeling the ring of fire entirely, but there are several ways to help get through it without tearing.
Crowning is the process when your vaginal tissues stretch to let your baby exit. You want your vagina to stretch gradually rather than tear.
No one wants to tear!
You’ll experience strong contractions with the urge to push, along with another sensation that tells you to stop pushing.
Your instinct when you feel the ring of fire is to push to stop the pain, but when you do so, you tear the tissues rather than give them time to stretch naturally.
If you slow down, how long it lasts will take longer, but your postpartum recovery will feel so much better!
That being said, a successful epidural can make it so you avoid the ring of fire, or make it at least quite tolerable.
Related: 35 Things Expectant Moms Should Know About Childbirth
The Degrees of Tearing
Since we are talking about tearing, you should know what to expect.
Even with all the best practices and guidances, tearing happens during birth still. Your vaginal tissue may not stretch well enough, or your baby’s position may cause problems. For example, if your baby has his hands by his face, it could cause tearing.
Tears are common, and most heal within a few weeks after delivery. There are different degrees based on the severity.
- First Degree Tear: This involves the skin and tissue of the perineum, and most often heal without stitches. The tear is considered minor.
- Second Degree Tear: These tears involve the perineum and some tissue inside the vagina. This requires stitches and a few weeks of minor recovery.
- Third Degree Tear: These tears involve the perineum and the muscles surrounding the anus, requiring surgery and a longer recovery time.
- Fourth Degree Tear: This is the highest degree of tears, involving the perineum, anal sphincter, and the mucous membrane of the rectum. These require surgery and a longer recovery time.
Women who have first and second degree tears have mild symptoms and problems afterward, such as stinging while urinating. If you have third or fourth degree tears, it’s not uncommon to have fecal incontinence until everything heals and pain during intercourse is more frequent.
Related Post: Essentials for a Postpartum Survival Kit
How to Get Through the Ring of Fire in Labor
Coming in prepared for childbirth and all that it will entail helps you get through the ring of fire during birth. Here are a few tips to help you prepare and avoid as much pain as possible.
Get Your Baby in the Right Position
One of the things you can do before labor to decrease or avoid the ring of fire is to get your baby into the right position.
The best position for your baby is to be head downwards with the back of their head facing the front of your belly. Women most often have the easiest labors with this position, and crowning may be less painful.
If your baby is in a different position, your care provider should have recommendations to help change it. One of the most common resources is Spinning Babies; you can access their guide that gives you exercises to help your baby turn into the best possible position.
Related Post: How to Turn Your Baby into the Head Down Birthing Position
The most important thing you can do to avoid tearing during the ring of fire is to slow down majorly, and that’s the hardest thing.
You want your baby out, and you know the sooner your baby is out, the sooner the pain goes away. However, rushing to push and pushing through the pain quickly makes it worse and increases the risk of tearing.
When the burning sensation intensifies, it means your perineum is stretching too fast. You have to slow down and let the burn happen, as your vaginal opening stretches.
Slow is key; pushing too much too fast will cause tearing. Let the pain release as your vagina opens!
Pick a Good Birthing Position
You don’t have to deliver on your back unless you want to do so; the best birthing position for you is whatever feels the best. Different positions help ease the pain and stress felt during delivery.
You might assume you want to be in a specific position, but the only way you’ll know for sure is when labor starts. Find a position that makes you feel the most comfortable when contractions come; feeling comfortable helps your body overall feel more relaxed.
Giving birth while laying on your back is one of the hardest birthing positions. While it gives doctors access to support your perineum, if it doesn’t feel right, try laying on your side, getting on all fours, or getting in a semi sitting position.
Apply a Perineal Warm Pack
An effective trick to reducing the discomfort during crowning is to apply a moist, warm perineal pack. Not only does it feel soothing, but this evidence-based suggestion shows your perineum benefits from it.
Studies show that women who have a warm pack therapy applied during the second stage of labor feel an overall increase in comfort and a reduction of the discomfort.
Working on Your Breathing
There is a reason Lamaze is so popular for labor and delivery!
Contractions cause your muscles to tighten, restricting the blood flow and oxygen to your body. So, continuing your breathing allows more oxygen to flow into your body, easing pain, helping with healing, and reducing your overall stress.
Before labor, practice breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth with your jaw open and relaxed; this has a direct effect on your pelvic muscles. It keeps your muscles soft and open, allowing your baby to come down through the birth canal easier.
Learning breathing techniques, like the ones taught during Lamaze classes, is a great idea. It will make your entire labor, not just crowning, more bearable. Labor is often more mental than anything else!
During labor, your midwife or OBGYN can offer perineal support. Having the counter pressure on your skin may feel great, and it can be done with a hand or a warm washcloth to soothe your skin.
So, the evidence is out on whether or not this truly helps reduce tears and burning during crowning, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
Perineal massage sounds strange, and to be honest, it is a bit weird. It’s a massage of the soft skin between the vagina and the anus. These massages help keep the area stretchy and soft to prevent burning and stinging.
Have a Water Birth
If you’re open to having a water birth, doing so helps to lessen the burning sensation during crowning. Water keeps your skin soft and makes it easier for your vagina to stretch during this period.
During a water birth, women stay in the water during the second stage of labor and deliver their baby in the water. Studies show that women who have a water birth are more likely to have an intact perineum as well as a higher rate of breastfeeding initiation after delivery.
It’s worth considering!
Related Post: How I Managed the Pain During 4 Natural Childbirths
While avoiding the ring of fire entirely is more than likely not going to happen, it’s important to remember this isn’t a stage to rush through. It won’t take long, but the more you rush and push, the more likely you are to tear. So, take it slow and breathe; your recovery process will thank you later.