This hand-to-head touch has an important purpose.

By Maggie O'Neill
May 30, 2019

When a woman gives birth vaginally, there's a point just after the baby's head crowns that is so notoriously painful it has a perfectly descriptive nickname: the ring of fire.

“When your baby’s head crowns, you will experience a burning or stinging sensation, often referred to as the ‘ring of fire,’ as your baby stretches the vaginal opening,” the American Pregnancy Association (APA) explains. 

Luckily, the “ring of fire” won’t go on forever—in fact, the APA says it lasts a short amount of time “and is followed by a feeling of numbness. The numbness comes from the baby’s head stretching the vaginal tissue so thin that the vaginal nerves are blocked. The effect is like a natural anesthetic.”

All this can be overwhelming, especially for first-time moms. But it might explain why some of the professionals who assist with childbirth advise women to physically connect with their baby during this stage of intense pain. Specifically, they recommend reaching down and touching the infant's head as it crowns.

A photo of this moment was captured and posted to the Instagram account rebeccacoursey_photosandfilm. It features a mom-to-be feeling her baby’s crowning head while giving birth.

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“Those moments before you push your baby out: often times during the pushing phase, us birth workers will encourage mothers to reach down to see if they can feel their baby’s head. For many mothers it is a stage where they felt re-energized and deeply connected with their bodies—knowing that their baby will be in their arms soon,” Rebecca Coursey, a doula who runs the Instagram account, wrote in the photo caption.

So while the ring of fire might bring some of the worst pain an expectant mom will experience, it's also the first opportunity for hand-to-head contact with the little one—a soothing, centering moment for both mother and child. 

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