What to Expect When the Baby Is Crowning

Pregnant woman in the delivery room

Labor and delivery culminates with a baby crowning and the birth of his or her entire body. While the miracle of childbirth never ceases to amaze us, the idea of a baby fitting through such a small area in the body can be scary, especially for first time mothers.

Changes During Pregnancy

Birth crowning isn't just a process that happens all at once. In fact, your body will begin to ready itself for labor and delivery several weeks before the actual big event. A baby crowning is just one of the steps for the delivery of a baby.

A typical pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks, although that amount of time can vary from one woman to the next. As much as a month before the actual delivery, your baby's head may begin to move into your pelvis. This is called engagement. You may be able to breathe a little easier since your baby will not be pushing against your lungs. However, you may also notice an increased pressure on your bladder as your baby's position has shifted.

As your pregnancy progresses and settles deeper into the pelvic cavity, you may notice that he or she is not as active. You may also experience pressure inside your vagina as the baby presses against the pelvic floor muscles. This is normal as well. Remember that during the last month, your baby is putting on more weight which accounts for the increased pressure as well.

As baby's body changes, so does yours. Many women experience Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes mistake those for the real deal. In fact, Braxton Hicks contractions are your body's way of readying itself for labor. In the same respect, your cervix will begin to soften in preparation for your baby's passage through the birth canal and out your vagina.

The Process of Baby Crowning

Your cervix must be dilated 10 centimeters and effaced 100 percent before birth crowning begins. Baby crowning is official once a baby's head remains visible even when a contraction has ended. As a woman pushes, the head may be visible but after the contraction ends, the head may retract out of view. Crowning is not realized until the head remains in view.

  • What does it feel like? For many women, the idea of childbirth is an intimidating one, so it helps to understand what is going to happen. During birth crowning, you will probably experience a burning sensation, unless you have been given an epidural. This is often called the "ring of fire."
  • What should you do? Most of the time you will be instructed to stop pushing when you feel the burning or stinging sensation. While it may be difficult to do so, this will lessen the risk of tearing as your baby is delivered. After a short time, you will no longer experience this feeling because the pressure of your baby's head will actually numb the nerves in your vagina. This is nature's way of anesthetizing you.

Fighting the Urge to Push

The urge to push can be overwhelming, but until your doctor, midwife, or nurse gives you the okay, you should try to fight that urge.

  • Try to relax the muscles of the perineal floor, which are located between the rectum and the vagina.
  • Relax your entire body as much as possible. Your birthing partner can help by massaging you and playing relaxing music.
  • Rely on deep breathing patterns to help you focus on relaxing. Your birthing partner can help you with this as well by breathing with you and providing a focal point to focus on.
  • Don't fight your contractions, but instead allow them to help your body with the birthing process.

Finally, once your baby begins to crown, the hard part is usually over. The rest of baby's body will follow naturally. If you have any questions or concerns about this process, be sure and discuss them in detail with your physician of midwife. Remember, the birth of your baby is a natural process.

What to Expect When the Baby Is Crowning