Labour, the last hurdle before you meet your beautiful bundle of joy, is often full of uncertainty surrounding the timing, as well as what to expect throughout the process. How sore will labour be? Can I cope with the contractions? Will there be any complications?
However, one of the most common questions asked is about birth crowning in the final stages of labour. Many of you want to know how it feels and what to expect.
The stages of labour
As the birth educators and authors of the 2014 edition of the Pregnancy and Baby Book explain, vaginal birth is often split into three stages of labour. In the first (latent) stage, the uterus starts contracting and the cervix thins and shortens, drawing up over the baby’s head, before stretching and opening (dilating).
At the end of this stage, the cervix is fully dilated, and your contractions are strong, but you lack the urge to push. This is also when you transition to the second stage of labour, where contractions become more intense so your little one can be pushed through the birth canal. It’s during this stage where you’ll experience birth crowning.
What is birth crowning?
Birth crowning occurs when your baby’s head emerges after a series of contractions. This process will start in the second stage of labour – when your uterine muscles tighten and relax to help your baby pass from your uterus into the birth canal. However, this “passing” process can take a while, because as you push with each contraction, your little one might move forwards and her head might be visible through your vaginal opening. But when the contraction is over, she may move backwards and not be visible until the next contraction.
“Once you can see your baby’s head and it doesn’t slip back in, that’s crowning,” explains childbirth educator and doula, Ami Burns.
Is it painful?
You may feel pressure on your rectum as your baby’s head moves down the birth canal and you may feel the urge to push (if you’ve had an epidural, you might not have this urge due to the loss of sensation), explains Midwife Anne Richley.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, when your baby crowns, you’ll more than likely experience a tingling, burning or stinging sensation also known as the “ring of fire”. Some moms report feeling a strong stretching or pulling sensation as the baby’s head starts to show. The good news is, this only lasts for a short period and is followed by a feeling of numbness as your baby’s head stretches the vaginal walls and the nerves are blocked. Once you are past this stage of labour, the hardest part is behind you and you will be meeting your baby. The final stage of labour involves delivering the placenta and cutting the umbilical cord.
TOP TIP: When you feel your baby crowning, it’s important to stop pushing, as pushing at this time could increase the risk of perineal tearing and the need for an episiotomy. You should always listen to your doctor or midwife’s instructions and prompts as this will reduce the risk of complications.
The best labour position to avoid tears when pushing
Studies have shown that one of the best labour positions for avoiding tears is to lie on one side (preferably your left) with the opposite leg raised for pushing. This will help to keep your pelvic bones moving apart to allow your baby through the birth canal.
Ami Burns also suggests following your natural urges to push except right at the end when you crown. Taking short, shallow breaths can also help to minimise tearing and resist the urge to bear down with all your might, which, if your baby’s head is on your perineum, can cause a tear, she explains.