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Baby Crowning: What It Means and What It Feels Like

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on August 14, 2020

Labor can be a long journey. Once your baby is crowning, you are one step closer to holding them in your arms.

What Is Crowning?

This is when you can see the top of your baby’s head through the opening of your vagina. This moment happens during the second stage of labor, when you push and deliver your newborn.

Once your baby crowns, you push out the rest of their body. Your doctor may ask you to do it gently or more slowly if your tissues need more time to stretch.

If your infant is too big, your doctor may widen your vaginal opening with a small cut called an episiotomy. But you usually won’t need this. Your doctor could also use a tool that looks like large spoons called forceps to guide your baby out. Another option called a vacuum extraction uses suction to help.

What Crowning Feels Like

You may feel a lot of pressure on your rectum like you need to poop. Your baby’s exit may stretch and irritate your vaginal nerves and the tissue between your vagina and anus (perineum). They may burn, tingle, and sting as your newborn makes their way out. Some women call this feeling a “ring of fire birth.”

But you might not feel much of any pain if you’ve taken medication for pain during your labor. The most common option in the U.S. is the epidural block. It helps numb feelings in your lower body through a tube in your lower back.

If you haven’t received an epidural or need more pain relief, your doctor may give you a shot called a pudendal nerve block to help you through the crowning.

You also may be able to push through your pain without any medication. Your partner, family members, or support person can put something warm on your back or a cool cloth on your forehead to lessen your discomfort.

How to Prepare

It’s natural if you feel nervous about giving birth. Remember that labor feels different for every woman. But some tips may help you better prepare for your delivery. You can:

  • Go to a childbirth class
  • Practice breathing, relaxation, and distraction techniques
  • Ask your doctor or midwife questions beforehand

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Melanie Jacobs, MMS, PA-C, The Mount Sinai Hospital.

Robert M. Silver, MD, Chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of Utah, and American Gynecological & Obstetrical Society council member.

Mayo Clinic: “Episiotomy: When it's needed, when it's not,” “Vacuum extraction.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “If Your Baby Is Breech,” “Medications for Pain Relief During Labor and Delivery.”

Merck Manual: “Female External Genital Organs.”

KidsHealth: “Dealing With Pain During Childbirth.”

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office on Women's Health: “Labor and birth.”

March of Dimes: “Stages of Labor.”

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