During delivery, your baby’s head will begin to show through your vaginal opening with each contraction. When your baby’s head remains visible without slipping back in, it is known as crowning.
What you should know about crowning:
When your baby’s head crowns, you will experience a burning or stinging sensation, often referred to as “the ring of fire,” as your baby stretches the vaginal opening. As soon as you feel this sensation, stop pushing! It is very important to stop pushing at this point because continuing to push and bear down increases the risk of tearing or the need for an episiotomy. If you forget, your doctor or midwife will remind you.
The burning or stinging sensation only lasts for a short time and is followed by a feeling of numbness. The numbness comes from the baby’s head stretching the vaginal tissue so thin that the vaginal nerves are blocked. The effect is like a natural anesthetic. There is no set time frame for how long this step of delivery will last.
Tips to fight that urge to push:
- Lean back and try to go limp.
- Make a conscious effort to relax the muscles of the perineal floor (the layers of muscles and tissue between the vagina and rectum).
- Focus on deep breathing techniques.
- Allow your contractions to do the work for you during this time.
Compiled using information from the following sources: Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 17. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn: The Complete Guide. Simkin, Penny, P.T., et al, Ch. 9.