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The Ring of Fire - What Causes It, How It Feels, and Ways To Prepare & Cope

birth labor Jan 11, 2021

I’m sorry, what?  The Ring of WHAT?! Fire. Yep. The burning ring of fire.  If you know, you know. If you don’t, I’m here to fill you in and ease your mind a bit.  While this sensation can feel intense, I want to share with you what causes it and a few ways to embrace the sensation and use it to your advantage.  Ready?  Let’s light it up! 


What causes the ring of fire?


Birth is a transformation.  A painfully beautiful, multi-sensational transformation.  When it comes to the ring of fire, let’s begin with what is happening in our body to bring on this burning feeling during birth. Birth has many stages.  Within each of those stages, there are phases.  I know, confusing right?  Let’s clear it up a bit and find where we want to focus.


Stages of Labor

1st Stage: Dilation and Effacement

2nd Stage: Birth of Baby (or Babies!)   ←--this is the stage we will focus on today

3rd Stage: Delivery of Placenta

4th Stage: Rest and Recovery


Phases in the 2nd Stage of Labor

1st Phase: Resting

2nd Phase: Descending (also known as Pushing)

3rd Phase: Crowning and Birth ←--this is the phase we will focus on today


For the sake of this topic, we’ll focus on the third phase of the second stage.  During this phase, the head of your baby is no longer moving down and drawing back with each’s there, ready to emerge.  This sweet baby is ready to say hello.  But before they can, they have to stretch through tissues of the vaginal opening to be born.  These soft tissues stretch around the firm head of your baby.  When they have reached their maximum point of stretch capacity, you may feel this sensation of burning.  There it is...the ring of fire. Reading this might have you crossing your legs and pursing your mouth in a tightly pressed “no!” So,  I want to offer you a little exercise to do and then leave you with a few helpful tips to prepare your body and mind for this moment. 


What does the ring of fire feel like?


Now that you know a little bit about what is causing this sensation in your body, let’s talk about a few ways to semi-replicate it.  This is a pants ON exercise, promise. But, I do need you to go wash your hands.  You’ll see why in a moment.  Hands clean?  Okay, let’s jump in. 


You may have heard or read about how the mouth and the birth canal are linked in many elements of birth.  For example, if your mouth is tense, it can translate to your birthing bits too.  So, before we get started here, let’s take a quick minute to relax both ends.  Sound good? 


Take a nice deep breath, in through your nose.  Pause there for a moment and then slowly release your breath through your mouth, keeping your lips in a soft O shape.  Let go of all tension here.  Pause again before the next breath in.  


Repeat this three times, closing your eyes if that feels good and safe for you.  


Notice your shoulders here.  Are they tense?  Are they shrugged?  Roll them down and back.  Notice your jaw here.  Is it tense?  Is it clenched? Unclench your teeth, release your bottom jaw from the top and move it from side to side.  Open and close your jaw a few times.  How is that feeling for you?


Repeat the breath work again if you’d like.  If you do, try to make each exhale slightly longer than the inhale.  This small shift activates the parasympathetic part of the brain...the one responsible for relaxation.  


Now that we are nice and relaxed, let’s do some stretching.  While I’d love to be on the mat, headed to a child's pose or downward dog, we are actually going to stretch your mouth.  Huh?  Stick with me and it’ll make sense. 


The tissues surrounding the mouth are similar in some ways to those surrounding the vagina.  It’s one of the easiest ways to replicate the stretching sensations that happen in the crowning phase of birth.  And again, all of this is optional and will follow with ways to cope if you’re feeling a little unsure.  


With clean hands, take the pointer and middle fingers on each hand and make fish hooks.  Insert hooks into the corners of your mouth.  Gently stretch your mouth open, stopping at any point if it feels too intense for you.  Did you feel the stretching and burning?  What did you think? Ready to find a few ways to make that feel a little better?  You’re in luck!  I have 5 helpful tips below, just for you! 

Ways to embrace the sensation and use it to your advantage 

  • Perineal Massage in Pregnancy. Massaging the tissues of the lower vagina has been helpful for many parents prior to birth. It gives you the opportunity to feel pressure or gentle stretching and practice responding with relaxation and breath work. In the final weeks of pregnancy, perineal massage a few times a week can be beneficial in reducing vaginal tearing.  Always listen to your body and what feels right to you and follow precautions given by your provider. Curious to know more about what this exercise looks like?  I’ll show you a few demonstration references at the end.


  • Pelvic Floor Awareness.   A pelvic floor physical therapist is an excellent asset here.  Activating and relaxing the different muscles of your pelvic floor all serve to benefit in preparing during pregnancy, pushing through birth and recovering postpartum.  Peeing when you sneeze, cough or bear down may be common in pregnancy and postpartum but that doesn’t mean that it’s normal.  Find a physical therapist that specializes in women’s health and the work you do together may pay off more than you ever imagined! 


  • Pushing and Positions.  Did you know that there is more than one way to push?  I sure did NOT when I was birthing my first baby.  And my-oh-my I wish I’d slowed down.  So, let this serve as my gentle reminder to not rush yourself.  The fiery sensation may tell you to hurry up and get it over with, but breathing your way through this allows for a slow and gradual stretch.  Learn more about the ways to push (spontaneous, delayed, directed) and the various positions you can move in and out of to change the intensity.  Water immersion can be so helpful here too, so take the time now to consider if a water birth is something you might be interested in here too.  


  • Perineal Support During Crowning. Tearing when pushing is something that many fear in birth, whether you’ve experienced it before or not.  There are supportive measures you can implement with your provider, which may in turn lessen the instance of tissues tearing.  Talk this out.  Does your provider offer oil, massage, or warm compresses during crowning?  It’s worth exploring! 


  • Pain Relief Measures. While some non-medical pain relief methods may lessen the sensations in birth, there are also medical ones that can take them away completely.  When learning about pain relief measures you can opt in to or decline, consider whether they involve a change in mobility, monitoring and or additional interventions.  Do the research here so that you know exactly what you are signing up for, before you consent.  



Keeping the mouth exercise in mind, let’s think about each of these elements and try it again.  Draw awareness to whether you are relaxed or tense with this practice.  Bring it back to breath work and see if the sensation changes as you breathe your way through the stretch.  Throw on some chapstick to give the tissues a bit more moisture before they stretch. Did anything change? I would love to hear your thoughts here, so share them with me. 


And tearing or intact, your perineum could use a little comfort post-birth. The Organic Perineal Balm from Earth Mama® Organics gets a YES from me every time.  You can find it in the shop, and if you’re on my email list, you’ll get a 20% off code to use for purchase from now through February 11th.  Sign up here and you’ll get the code too! 


Perineal Massage Video Demonstrations:


Here are the links to a pants on a 3 part demonstration from Women’s Health Physiotherapist, Eimear of The Physio Girl.  These are super helpful to see how to do this before you give it a go! 


How to do this on your own, lying down:


How to do this with a partner helping you


How to do this, from a standing position