Woman in labor with a nurse and a doctor comforting her

Baby Crowning and the Ring of Fire Pregnancy

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It is an absolute miracle to bring a little human into the world. The sheer anticipation of being a mom is exciting. There is no doubt that, as a first-time mom, you have mixed emotions about the whole pregnancy and labor experience. You may have even heard about the ring of fire pregnancy that happens during birth.

The phenomenon is thought to be caused by hormones released during labor, which sensitize nerve endings in the area and increase sensation. This increased sensitivity can lead to heightened awareness and pain when the baby’s head passes through the birth canal. For some mothers, this burning sensation is so intense that it feels like their most delicate parts are going through an actual ring of fire.

In this blog post, we will explore what the ring of fire is. Why some mothers experience it, and how they can manage it. Read on to find out more!


What is the ring of fire pregnancy?

The ring of fire is a term used to describe some women’s sensation when their baby’s head passes through the vaginal opening.

And are you wondering why it is called the ring of fire? Because your vaginal opening stretches to a circle shape or ring to accommodate your baby’s head crowning. And while this is happening, you may experience a burning sensation.

While it sounds scary, it does not last long. It is a good sign that your baby is almost here. Fortunately, some of you will not experience the ring of fire.

You can get through the ring of fire with a few modifications during labor and delivery. For example, attending a childbirth class where you will learn the best position for labor, how to use a warm perineal pack, or how to perform a perineal massage.

For some mothers, the ring of fire is more of a dull ache. Regardless, you will know it when you feel it.

When does the ring of fire happen?

a pregnant woman touching her own belly

Mothers-to-be often feel the ring of fire when they are in the second stage of labor. Before we get the low-down on exactly why the ring of fire happens in the second stage of childbirth, here is what you should know about the process and its different stages.

Labor is when your baby is delivered from your uterus through your vagina and can happen once you are near the end of your third trimester. Your doctor or midwife will examine you periodically to determine how far you have progressed when you start having regular contractions and check into the hospital.

Labor is divided into three stages:

  1. The first stage begins with the start of labor and ends with the cervix fully widening to 10 centimeters. Here is when you may experience painful contractions leading to your cervix dilating and your baby descending into your pelvis. 
  1. The second stage of labor starts after a complete cervical dilation and ends with your baby being delivered. In this stage, your baby descends fully into the birth canal and begins the crowning process. This stage is where most women feel the ring of fire.
  1. The third stage of labor commences after the baby is delivered and ends with the delivery of the placenta. Congratulations are in order at this point, as your newborn will be placed in your arms for you two to begin bonding.


Is crowning and the ring of fire the same thing?

woman in labor lying on her bed

Some people believe crowning and the ring of fire are the same thing. But in reality, they are not.

It is possible for your baby’s head to crown without you experiencing the ring of fire.

The term crowning refers to your baby’s head starting to appear at the birthing canal once you are fully dilated.

When you are in active labor, your cervix dilates fully from about 6 cm to 10 cm. Your baby then descends into your vagina and begins to crown.

Your midwife will closely monitor you through the different stages of labor and give you updates as you progress.

To many women, crowning brings on the ring of fire feeling because when your tissues stretch, it can cause an intense burning or stinging sensation. While others do not feel any discomfort at all.

When your baby’s head is crowning, your nerves become blocked, and you may feel nothing or more of a numbing sensation than pain. And speaking of pain, if you choose to have an epidural, you may experience more of a dulled-down burning sensation. Or it may feel more like pressure than burning. It depends on the amount of pain relief you are receiving.

As you can imagine, there is a spectrum of experiences, and there is no one right or wrong way to feel. The good news is once your baby crowns, you will welcome her within minutes to a few hours, all things equal.


How to manage the ring of fire pregnancy?

Everyone has a different pain threshold, so not every pregnant woman will experience the ring of fire in labor. There is also no reason to feel like a superwoman. If you find the contractions unbearable, by all means, ask for pain relief. Your doctor can help you decide on a pain management plan that will work for you.

So now that we know what the ring of fire is during childbirth, is there a way of escaping it or at least reducing the pain? While you may not successfully avoid the ring of fire during natural birth, you can certainly lessen the intensity of pain. Here are a few tips for managing the experience in pregnancy.

Listen to your doctor or midwife

Doctor touching a pregnant woman's belly

They are there to guide you through the different stages of labor and delivery so you can have a near-seamless experience before your newborn arrives.

Perineal massage

There are claims you can lessen the ring of fire sensation and tissue damage by doing perineal massage before giving birth (and during active labor). As the name implies, the perineum (soft skin between the vagina and the anus) is massaged using oils or Vaseline during the late stage of pregnancy and during the first and second stages of labor. This helps keep muscles stretchy and soft.

Surprisingly, it is common among pregnant women and has helped ease the burning sensation.

Warm pack

Like any other sore muscle or tissue, a warm perineal pack can relieve pain and help you relax. Moist heat is even better and helps soften the perineal tissue. Studies showed that applying perineal warm packs in the late second stage of labor was highly acceptable and effective in soothing the ring of fire during childbirth and increasing comfort.

Ask your doctor, doula, or delivery nurse if they can get you a heat pack or warm towels to place on your perineum.

Resist the urge to push too fast when your baby is crowning

woman in labor trying to push

When your doctor or midwife tells you to stop pushing or slow down when your baby is crowning, they have a good reason. If you proceed too fast, you risk tearing your vagina (or, more accurately- your premium).

Relax and allow your perineum (the area of skin between your vagina and anus) time to stretch enough to accommodate your baby and prevent or reduce tearing. Slow, controlled pushing is the goal, so you may need to rely on deep breathing or relaxation techniques to manage your urge to push.

Try different labor positions

pregnant woman in a lamaze class

Before going into labor, ensure you learn about different birthing positions that may help you feel most comfortable when your contractions start. When you are more comfortable, you are more likely to be relaxed.

Attending a childbirth class teaches you other labor and delivery positions besides lying on your back. It is actually an uncomfortable position for pushing during childbirth.

Giving birth in a side-lying position, semi-sitting position, or getting on all fours are considered ideal positions during labor and delivery.

Ask for pain relief

Adequate pain relief can help you avoid the ring of fire during childbirth. If you have an epidural, you may not have this intense sensation. You may have a dull burning sensation or only feel some pressure without burning. But some women will still experience pain even with an epidural.

Water birth

pregnant woman in labor having a water birth

While a water birth is not for everyone, research shows that water births are associated with less severe tearing and pain. Giving birth in water relaxes the perineal tissue keeping the area soft and making it easier to stretch during the second stage of labor.

Breathing exercises

pregnant woman meditating

When you feel the ring of fire sensation, you may also feel a strong urge to start pushing. If you can breathe through it and try to relax, you will have less chance of tearing and less pain. Here is where the breathing techniques from your Lamaze classes come in handy. 

Breathing is a great way to ensure you get enough oxygen into your body to ease pain and stress during labor. During contraction, your uterus contracts restricting blood flow and oxygen to the surroundings. The lack of oxygen causes pain.

Managing the Ring of Fire Pregnancy Can Prevent Vaginal Tears

A vaginal tear during childbirth is common. Even with the best guidance, there is always an opportunity for tearing as long as the vaginal tissue stretches.

Sometimes it happens because of the size of a baby’s head. If it is large, it can result in the pregnant woman needing an episiotomy (although it is very uncommon). 

A first-degree tear can heal without stitches within a few weeks. Second-degree tears require stitches and a few weeks of recovery. With third- and fourth-degree tears, more extensive stitches are necessary to prevent complications. Also, healing takes longer.

A perineal massage may help prevent a tear. Your healthcare provider can guide you if you are concerned about vaginal injuries during childbirth.


Mommas, I hope this article has shed some light on why some of you may experience the ring of fire and how you can best manage it. 

If you have experienced or are experiencing the ring of fire, remember that you are not alone. Many other mothers have gone through this too! Be consoled that your baby is just a few minutes away from making a debut.

Do you have any tips on how to avoid the ring of fire during childbirth? Please leave your comment below.

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