What to Expect: When the Baby's Crowning

By Julie Snyder (Pregnancy.org Staff)

Crowning: When the baby's head has passed through the birth canal and the top or "crown" stays visible at the vaginal opening.

I read these words and thought crowning didn't sound like something I was eagerly anticipating. And then when I heard that the baby's head pushing on the perinium sometimes causes a tingling or burning or stinging sensation often referred to as the "ring of fire," I wasn't exactly comforted.

I had two main concerns. Would the baby even fit through there and if so, how much damage would there be to the tissues? This happened to be a part of my body that I would like enjoy again at some point!

During pushing and the birth, your baby's head will begin to make an appearance through your vaginal opening with each contraction. When your baby's head remains visible and doesn't slip back in, it is known as crowning. This is the point at which that fuzzy little tuft of hair doesn't disappear -- if you are watching the process in a mirror. You can reach down and touch the baby's head; it's warm, wet and soft.

When your baby's head crowns, you might experience a burning or stinging sensation, often referred to as "the ring of fire," as your baby stretches the vaginal opening. To me it felt like my hand did when it was asleep and started waking up; a tingling and unpleasant sensation, but not unbearable. If you do feel a burning or stinging sensation, it only lasts for a short time and is followed by a numb feeling. This is due to your baby's head stretching your vaginal tissue so thin that the nerves are blocked. The result is a natural anesthetic.

As soon as you feel that stretching sensation, your provider may ask you to stop pushing. You want to breathe the baby out, decreasing your risk of tearing.

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 your energy into deep breathing techniques or meditation
  • Allow your contractions to do the work for you during this time

The great thing about crowning is the emminent arrival of your baby. Congratulations will soon be in order!

Prologue: My first birth, the doctor did a routine episiotomy -- something I had not anticipated. At this point in birthing I was focused elsewhere and not at my best to deal with such issues, so it went unchallenged.

Before my next birth I researched ways to minimize the risk of tearing or having an episiotomy. Amazingly, research showed the best thing I could do to prepare was out of my hands -- I looked for a provider who had a low rate of episiotomies and would work during labor to support the perineum. Adding this topic to your list of questions for your potential midwife or doctor will help empower you to have the birth you want.

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