The “ring of fire”

At some point during birth preparations, somebody is going to tell you about how it feels to give birth. For me, the contractions were painful, but the birth itself was not, except for what is known as “the ring of fire.” Some women feel this every birth, some don’t feel it at all, and some have it at some births and not at others. I don’t want you to set yourself up for feeling more pain than is strictly necessary, but I do want to prepare you for this sensation.

First, what is it? During a vaginal birth, as your vagina expands around the largest point of the baby’s head you will often feel a pulling or burning sensation. It is brief (maybe 30 seconds), and like every other pain you feel, it impels you to change something to stop the pain. Typically, it will feel better to stop pushing, to allow your tissues to rest and expand gently. Many times when women push through the pain, they end up tearing.

Now, what does it feel like?

Open your mouth as wide as you can and hold it. Now, put your fingers in the corners of your mouth and pull your mouth wider until you feel stretching or burning. Now, imagine that at your vaginal opening. That is similar to what you might feel when your baby is born.

Yes, it’s painful, but it’s also brief. Some women are nearly terrified of the “pain of giving birth,” but they feel like they can handle the contractions. They may opt for an epidural or a local anesthetic to avoid this pain. But I gotta tell you–birth is painless compared to the contractions beforehand. If you can handle the contractions, you don’t need to worry about feeling the baby come out. For me, pushing was one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done; and the sensation of the baby moving down was also empowering. The contractions were no fun; but pushing my babies out was painless, except for the ring of fire.


34 Responses

  1. The ring of fire was definitely the most intense and scary part of my first baby’s birth for me. I had read about it and practiced the mouth-stretching example, but I had failed to realize that the sensation could last for some time. I expected it to be momentary, but it lasted for several contractions for me. This was the only point in my labor and birth where I felt “freaked out” and scared. I did end up giving some “baby pushes” (as the midwife suggested) through the burning sensation and my baby was born.

    I felt a burning sensation with my second baby too, but it wasn’t as scary or surprising the second time around (didn’t last as long either!).


  2. I’m working on writing my birth story, and your description is right on!

    For me, the ring of fire did burn, but it wasn’t unbearable. I was actually excited about it, because I realized what was happening and I knew my baby was almost out.

    You’re right — if you can get through the contractions before the pushing contractions, you’re golden.

  3. Thank you so much, I’ve found this really helpful.

  4. […] squeeze my legs together a little. As a woman who has given birth, the “Ring of Fire” has a very different meaning to […]

  5. so i have to agree labor is way more pain ful but i have to say it feels like somone is taking a match to your vagina

  6. I had my first baby a year ago, and found the ring excruciatingly painful. I think a key thing to keep in mind is to NOT push at this time; I was in so much pain that I pushed hard, and tore. By the time you’re at the ring of fire stage, the baby’s there, you don’t need to work that hard. I don’t want to scare you , though – crazy as it may sound before your delivery, you’re sore , torn and stitched up in your tenderest parts, your belly is huge and covered with stretch marks, your breasts are painful and bulky, and yet, there’s NOTHING you want more than that little angel that’s changed your life – not to mention your body – forever. Amazing:-)

    • The contractions for me were a walk in the park on a beautiful day licking an ice cream cone compared to the hell and what felt like burning tissue that was happening between my legs while pushing my son out. They say not to push during this sensation but I felt the ring of fire the whole entire time i needed to push. The doctor told me i needed to push or they were getting the vaccuum cause he wasn’t moving. The thought of having another baby to have to feel this again brings me to tears. If i ever get pregnant again I will be ordering an epidural as soon as the plus sign shows up on the test.

  7. I will be delivering my fourth child tomorrow. I was reading up on how to decrease the pain associated with “the ring of fire.” I have had two deliveries with epidurals and one without any meds. I have to say that, in my case, contractions are not as painful as this burning sensation. I call it the “blowtorch effect” I think it is the most painful part of the entire process, however short. I did learn, finally, that the trick is to stop pushing at this time and allow the skin stretch. My OB does not believe in episiotomies even if you request it. I will try this tomorrow. I always listened to the nurse encouraging me to “push through the pain” which caused me 3rd degree lacerations everytime.

  8. Wow, now I am really scared…:/// I ma only 18 weeks pregnant, but I feel am absolutely terrified when I’m thinking about giving birth…

    • You have quite some time before you are due; take the time now to really get in touch with your body and your feelings, and work on any fears. Many women don’t feel “the ring of fire” and for most it lasts only a moment. Work on relaxation; you may want to look into HypnoBabies or some other deep relaxation technique to help you in labor. If you have an epidural, you likely will feel nothing; if you have an unmedicated birth, “the ring of fire” will likely be less painful, though perhaps more intense, than one or two contractions.

  9. I came across an article today about natural childbirth and finally got an answer after my first experience almost 7 years ago. My first delivery was unexpected and early. And I had no clue i was in labor until 6 hours into it and knew something was terribly wrong. By the time i arrived at the hospital the nurse who examined me was irrate at me and I had NO CLUE i was in full blown labor. NO TIME FOR EPIDURAL!! my daughter was born an hour and a half later and fully recall that burning “omg why is it burning” sensation. thankfully she is now almost 7… Thanks for letting me share!

  10. […] unplanned pregnancy. When the time is right, I’m sure I’ll willingly walk into the ring of fire. But til then – I’m good. Category: Musings  Tags: Health/Beauty, Teen Mom, […]

  11. […] squeeze my legs together a little. As a woman who has given birth, the “Ring of Fire” has a very different meaning to […]

  12. I am 8 weeks pregnant with my second child. I had a natural birth 4 years ago with my first. It is NOT THAT BAD! I think diarrhea and stomach flu is way worse. I do not recall the “ring of fire” but I did push too hard and fast and tore. My whole body was tingling as I gave birth so I don’t recall that much pain. I do remember the contractions right before my son crowned were excruciating and I wailed through all of them. They were crashing on me like waves over and over, very fast. It was my actual uterus that hurt not my vulva. But I am choosing to do natural childbirth again this time. There are risks with epidurals (small risk but still a risk) and the feeling of being in control of your labor and your body is empowering. Educate yourself as to what is happening in your body during each part of labor and that will help you get through it. It was an amazing experience for me and one I cherish.

    • I delivered my second child a month ago. I went natural again and felt the ring of fire this time. It was more of an annoyance than a pain. I don’t think women should psych themselves out about it. The contractions hurt the most. Pushing is a relief and the ring of fire is no big deal.

  13. im 33 weeks pregnant which means baby is almost here!!! my friend who just had her baby last week said that it burned a little which i guess is the “ring of fire” she had an epi though. i plan on getting one.. im getting soooo anxious for my baby girl to be here!! i just want to hold her so bad! and im ready for this heartburn to be over and done with! but i am starting to think about the birth more. im not scared.. at least yet haha but i am very excited for it!

  14. […] I knew it, there was talk of a head. Ignoring the ring of fire (<—really great description there), I went ahead with a big push or two and Daddy […]

  15. I’m 20 weeks pregnant with my fourth baby. My other births were with an epidural. I had no complications, but I just don’t like the idea of a big needle in my spine. Also years later the area around my spine always fealt sore to the touch. So this Birth I am determined to get my stripes and endure a drug free birth.. The contractions- I know what to expect so I’m sure I’ll do ok, but the ring of fire has me scared. Because I have big babies. 8lb 11oz 8lb 13oz and my lil premie 6lbs 9oz (no problems with him just ealy.) My doctor said if I had went full term he would have been a 9 pounder. Good luck to all pregnanat women, may the force be with us all!! 😉

  16. I had ep with all mine an I have 5. I felt the ring of fire with the middle 3 an it hurt very bad. Contractions ain’t as bad as that feeling. I felt helpless not empowered lol

    • I had a natural delivery with my baby, and really had an out of body experience when “the ring of fire” pains began. For me it was the worst pain I have ever experienced. Thank goodness some women never feel this pain.

      • Omg I am watching Tia & Tamera and heard them speak of this. I had the same experience but could not verbalize the intense pain I felt . Glad to know what it was even if its four years late .

      • Thank you! It’s so redeeming to hear other women say the ring of fire sensation was not brief for them. I’ve given birth (without meds) four times, and preparing to do it again in a couple months. I have felt an intense burning sensation

      • Thank you! It’s so redeeming to hear other women say the ring of fire sensation was not brief for them. I’ve given birth (without meds) four times, and preparing to do it again in a couple months. I have felt an intense burning sensation from the start of crowning all the way until the whole body was completely born. Maybe it’s true that not pushing helps alleviate it; with my first, I just followed the midwife’s coaching to push and didn’t feel an urge to push, but with the following three I have had an irresistible urge to push with all my might! And I only tore with the first. But I will say that I felt an intense burning sensation and NOT a brief one! In fact, with my second, I felt as if I was on fire “down there” and all my guts were falling out as my son was being born, and I really felt as if I were literally dying. I felt as if I were giving up my life to give life to another person! In reality, there were absolutely no complications: I lost very little blood, did not tear, baby perfectly healthy (8 lbs 4 oz), everything perfect! But that was the sensation or perception I had. Each birth is different, even for the same woman!

  17. Every woman’s experience is different

  18. […]  I expressed to one of the nurses that I was nervous about pushing, as I had experienced the “ring of fire” with Really Little Man (that term always reminds me of Johnny Cash). “Did you have an […]

  19. […] Ring of Fire (and I’m not talking about the Johnny Cash song! I also saw this mentioned on a discussion forum about natural childbirth…WOAH!) […]

  20. i am trying to get pregnant and i hadnt really thought about the “ring of fire” until today..scary!! im opting for an epidural. if u dont agree just watch some natural births on youtube and listen to the women scream!

    • Im 22 weeks pregnant and with my first and yes it hurts bad i know this ive been reading up , they scream because i mean yeah your insides are stretching but once your pregnant youll see itll all be totally worth it . breathing with your diafram is said to help allot , so girl i hope the best for you and that you get pregnant and have a safe and healthy baby and pregnancy.
      -15 year old teen mom to be on August 11,2013

  21. […] truly felt like forever, I pushed and felt him starting to come out. I felt the so-called “ring of fire” and knew we were finally getting somewhere. I pushed a couple of times through this, then, […]

  22. […] what truly felt like forever, I pushed and felt him starting to come out. I felt the so-called “ring of fire” and knew we were finally getting somewhere. I pushed a couple of times through this, then, even […]

  23. Crowning was *way* more painful than all the labor pains put together. It lasted much longer than 30 seconds too. It just went on and on and I was actually screaming at the doctors to give me an episiotomy. It actually felt good when they cut me.

  24. Im 35 weeks pregnant with my 2nd daughter 🙂 and I think the ring of fire isnt that bad, it sure does burn but the way i think about it is, when you feel that you know your babys right there and almost in your arms 🙂 which is the best feeling ever. I had morphine with my first labour and i wont ever get it again!! I’m going all natural this time around 🙂 Good luck momma’s 2 be out there 🙂

  25. I Disagree with the articles statement!! ” If you can handle the contractions then you don’t need to worry about the baby comming out”, and the “it’s very brief”… I thought that the dreaded “Ring Of Fire” was by far the worst, most painful part in my labors!!! I could breath and concentrate on pushing through the contactions, but pushing through the ring of fire I thought was WAY MORE PAINFUL, and it lasted through several contractions… Didn’t feel like it was brief to me…lol…It’s the only part I’m actually nervous about with this delivery comming up in November… Good Luck Mommies To Be!!!! 1 epidural, 2 all natural, and going all natural with this one too…

  26. This article and everyone’s responses have helped me sooo much!!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!!!

    I have been effing TERRIFIED to give birth and had a hormonal panic attack for the whole weekend!

    I finally feel at peace with giving birth. I know it will still be painful, but I feel like I am learning a lot from my research and other women’s experiences and am much more prepared!!!

    Ps. Definitely getting an epidural and fingers crossed that I don’t tear!

    Thank you all again!

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