Have you ever heard of the ring of fire during childbirth? The ring of what?! It sounds so scary.
If I’m being totally honest with you, it is sorta scary (don’t shoot the messenger).
The good news though, the ring of fire is short-lived and after reading this article, you will know exactly how to cope should you experience it!
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What is the ring of fire?
Let’s break it down, what exactly is the ring of fire? As your baby’s head crowns, the skin around your vagina and perineum stretches to allow your baby to pass through. Many report it feeling like a burning or stinging sensation in their vagina.
And while the ring of fire totally SUCKS (sorry, there’s really just no other way to describe it), it is very short-lived when compared to your entire labor.
When does the ring of fire happen?
The ring of fire happens during the pushing phase of labor. But more specifically, when baby’s head is crowning. So what exactly is crowning?
As you push, you will eventually get to a point where you can see the top of your baby’s head. At first, you will see baby’s head just while actively pushing and then it will slip back in when you stop pushing.
Eventually, your baby’s head will remain visible between active pushing as well. At this point, when we can see your baby’s head without it slipping back in at all, baby is crowning.
Why does it happen?
But why does crowning happen? And why must you experience this torture after everything you’ve been through so far in the labor process? Like I said earlier, the ring of fire occurs as a result of the skin around your vagina and perineum stretching to make room for your baby to pass through.
If the skin around your vagina and perineum can stretch a bit prior to your baby’s noggin pushing through then you might be able to minimize your chances of tearing. You see, nothing quite as large as your baby’s head has passed through your vagina before, so it’s obviously going to cause some unpleasant sensations when that head comes through.
There are actually two approaches to the ring of fire. Push as hard as you can to quickly get through it or shorter, more controlled pushes. Sure, pushing as hard as you can gets you through the ring of fire faster, but it can increase your chances of tearing or having a more significant tear.
With the shorter pushes approach, you are less likely to tear, but you will experience the sensation for a longer period of time.
Embracing the experience
Keep in mind that in comparison to your entire labor, the ring of fire is actually a very, very short period of time. I know, it’s basically impossible to wrap your head around that concept when you are actually going through it, but having this knowledge ahead of time hopefully will offer you at least a little bit of comfort.
While it’s true that some mamas with epidurals don’t experience the ring of fire (or it might not be as intense), a well functioning epidural is not guaranteed to keep you from feeling it. So what’s my biggest piece of advice when it comes to the ring of fire – just embrace it, mama!
The natural response
Your natural response to the ring of fire is probably going to be yelling something like, “Get this baby out of me now!” Believe me, it was exactly what was going through my head and it’s what I see time and time again with mamas that I’m laboring.
Some women even try to close their legs or “crawl” up the bed to escape the pain. Hey, no one ever accused women in the throes of labor as being rational…and rightfully so!
What your nurse will be doing
As your labor nurse, my biggest role is to support and comfort you as much as possible during your labor. This is no different during the ring of fire! I will be encouraging you to listen to your body, to do what feels best, and reminding you of those breathing techniques.
Another thing you might find me or your provider doing throughout this time is applying a warm washcloth to your perineum. Application of heat can not only help reduce pain but might also help to minimize tearing as well.
Coping strategies for the ring of fire during childbirth
I mentioned previously that there are a couple of ways to “attack” the ring of fire. You can either push as hard as you can to quickly get through it or use shorter, more controlled pushes. Which is better you might ask?
From a tearing perspective, the shorter more controlled pushes are better. From a pain and “get this thing over with” perspective, pushing as hard as you can might be the better option.
A great, noninvasive coping strategy for the ring of fire, as mentioned above, is applying heat to your perineum. Most commonly this is done by your labor nurse or provider in the way of a warm washcloth. If this is not being done during pushing then I encourage you to request it!
Perineal support can be provided in conjunction with heat by your provider placing a warm washcloth on to the area. Sometimes just a little support or pressure to the area is enough to reduce some of the discomfort associated with the ring of fire.
Note, this alone will not take away all of the ring of fire pain. Heck, nothing really will take away all of the ring of fire pain, but perineal support might help.
Change your position
Pushing and delivering in a hands-and-knees position might help with the ring of fire discomfort as well as minimize your chance of tearing – it’s a win-win!
And if your provider tries to tell you it’s not an option, I encourage you to advocate. While it might not be an option if you have a super dense epidural in place, mamas with and without an epidural should be encouraged to push in different positions.
Deep breathing and relaxation techniques
Slow, deep breaths can help relax your pelvic floor muscles and in turn help reduce the pain associated with the ring of fire. This is something I highly recommend you practice during pregnancy so it feels more natural and comfortable during labor.
If you don’t know where to start with breathing and relaxation techniques, I’ve made it super simple and straightforward in my online birth courses.
Lubrication during pushing
Throwing some coconut or mineral oil around the perineum and vagina while pushing can help baby’s head slip out a little easier and reduce the effects of the ring of fire and tearing.
Like the warm compress and perineal support, this is something that can be done by your labor nurse and/or provider while pushing.
This one isn’t super common. In fact, in my almost ten years of being a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve only seen it a handful of times. Not many facilities or physicians perform pudendal blocks anymore, but they can be very effective!
A pudendal block is a local anesthetic that is given into the pudendal canal where your pudendal nerve is located. This is positioned deep in your pelvis, right next to where baby is fixing to come out!
This large nerve is responsible for any feeling you have in your perineum. The procedure is typically done to reduce rectal pain from pushing. It will not do much to take labor contractions away.
Again, not something we see often, but I wanted you to be familiar with it just in case!
If you know anything about me then you probably know how big I am on education! Wanting to provide women with education about labor and birth is the whole reason I created Mommy Labor Nurse in the first place.
I’m such a firm believer that education empowers people and in the labor room, it can help women achieve the birth experience they want and deserve!
Time and time again I hear from women that have taken my birth courses how invaluable the education was throughout their pregnancy and birth. You absolutely deserve to feel prepared for and in control of your birth experience, mama!
The bottom line is that the ring of fire just plain sucks. And while there are plenty of ways to cope with it and different ways to approach it, you just gotta get through it. Remember, it’s such a small amount of time compared to your overall labor, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t prepare for it as best you can.
For more awesome resources about labor and birth, give the links below a look!