What Is The Ring of Fire In Labor?

We have all heard of it, the ring of fire. The ring of fire is typically something that birthing parents experience at the very end of a vaginal labor as the baby's head is crowning and the perineal tissues are stretching to make space for the head to be born. Some describe the sensation of the ring of fire as stretching, stinging, and, as the name would suggest, burning.

When Does It Happen?

The ring of fire occurs when the cervix is fully dilated at 10cm and right before your baby's head is born. The sensations at this point of pushing can be very intense. Not only might you be feeling this burning sensation, but it also tends to feel like a bowling ball in your vagina. It is hard to stop or slow pushing, even when the contractions have ended. But stopping and slowing pushing is the goal and what most care providers will be asking of you in these last moments. Why? Because this is the crucial time for the tissues to be stretched to accommodate the birth with the least amount of tearing possible. 

Slow and Steady

As a care provider, I often find that I have to explain why I am asking my clients to slow their pushing at this point in labor, reminding them that this is all a part of helping your tissues to stretch. When the contraction comes back, I will do a small panting and grunting type of push noise for them to copy so that they slow and ease their baby down and out. Another way we work to prevent tearing during this stage is to provide counterpressure if the parent desires. This counter pressure is done on the perineum (the area of skin between the vagina and anus), and I even give some counter pressure on the baby's head to slow their descent and entrance into the world. 

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Is Tearing Inevitable?

Do all of these things work perfectly every time? No. Some individuals have solid pelvic floors, and no matter how hard we try to get the tissues to stretch, a tear is inevitable. I often see this with dancers, gymnasts, and weight lifters, but it can happen to anyone and is most common if this is your first time birthing. All of that said, typically, these things will help lessen the degree of the tearing that will occur. The hope is to help achieve the least amount of trauma to the tissues possible, dependent body to body.

So, here is my tip for birth: If you are feeling the ring of fire, this is your sign to slow down and take your time. As long as your baby has good heart tones and you are doing well in tandem, you have time, which is what your tissues need. I recommend asking a partner or care provider for counterpressure and doing the panting and grunting type of pushing each time a contraction comes back. Remember, as long as you and your baby are doing well, you can take as many contractions as you need to push your baby's head out. If a care provider is urging you to hurry but has no reason for this urge, ignore them, and remember that slowly birthing your baby is going to give you the least amount of trauma to your tissues as possible. The less tissue trauma you have, the faster and easier you will heal postpartum. This is your birth and your baby. Listen to your gut as you push them out and bring them into your arms. There is no race or gold star for the fastest pushing phase. But I promise that if you can listen to what the ring of fire tells you, your healing will be easier than if you blow right through your tissues.

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