|Photo donated by a reader for use, by dfwbirthphotographer.com. The moments just after birth.|
What does "pushing" or the second stage of labor feel like?
So often when we think of labor we simply think of crowning and birth. Labor is so much more than just the actual crowning. Most birth videos, even natural ones, focus on those final moments of pushing out the baby.
I think we can all honestly say that the first time we saw that or even thought about a baby coming out of a normally pretty small vagina it seemed almost impossible. Painful? Of course pushing LOOKS painful- but it often isn't and can feel wonderful and exhilarating.
Women often SOUND as though they are in pain when they are pushing, especially at the end. Even a rather quietly laboring woman will almost inevitably be very vocal during this time. Some will moan, others will scream or even shriek.
So, what does second stage labor or pushing feel like? The truth is that there isn't one simple answer for this. As with anything having to do with birth there is vast variation in how women experience and feel it.
Let's talk about some of the ways women describe the pushing part of labor and what it feels like.
Many women describe the pushing phase of labor as feeling like immense pressure very low down. It is not uncommon for it to be described as a feeling like a very large bowel movement. You feel like you "HAVE TO" push. You may feel like there is just a LOT of pressure barreling down in your body. Honestly, it is somewhat hard to describe to somebody who hasn't felt it.
The amount of pressure that you will feel during pushing can be overwhelming, to some it is scary, and it is certainly powerful. I think this is physiologically normal and a very important feeling. It helps mom work to push the baby out in a timely manner because she simply feels like she MUST do it.
I think we often think of the pushing phase of labor as being incredibly painful because it LOOKS like it is- but it is important to remember that for many women pushing in labor is enjoyable and painless. Just because a woman has a head coming out of her vagina and she is howling in a most primal way does not actually mean she is in pain. She is probably riding the immense power of her body on a tidal wave that she can't get off of. Is she in pain? Who knows- many women LOVE this part of labor.
But- for some pushing is incredible painful. It can feel like it hurts or like your body is "splitting in two" (some women use that description).
I almost hate to admit that pushing can be painful because I want women to feel re-invigorated when pushing begins and be EXCITED that they will be meeting their baby soon.
In truth though, it is sometimes described as painful and that is a viable and honest emotion. I have found with my own births that pain may or MAY NOT be part of pushing. It has been different with different babies. With some it was totally painless and with others excruciating.
I will say that IF pushing is painful for you, when it has been so for me it went faster and was incredibly motivating. Again, if pushing for you is accompanied by pain I believe it serves a purpose. I try VERY hard to push my baby out when I am feeling like that and it hastens the entire process.
For those humans who have not given birth (ie, men) it seems incomprehensible that pushing a seven or eight pound baby out of a formally small space could be pleasurable. But it is in fact so for some women.
Some women simply enjoy pushing because they get to work with their body. During labor contractions if you are trying hard to relax then the change in the feel of contractions when you start pushing can be re-vitalizing, exciting, and enjoyable. Sometimes I think that really athletic women enjoy this part of labor that is very physical work. Finally it feels like you are doing something!
Other women describe pushing as more than enjoyable but pleasurable. (Yes, the term orgasmic has been tossed around.) If you think about what is happening physiologically at the time of pushing and birth there are many similar hormones, body parts, and sensations that are used during other times of climax. It is not so strange that some women really enjoy pushing.
Your body desperately wants you to LOVE and care for this baby. Your body helps you do this by excreting high levels of the hormone oxytocin so that you will feel fierce emotions of attachment and love for this baby and others present at the birth.
Truly, we are wonderfully made.
~Crowning and the Ring of Fire~
Many people equate pushing with crowning but they are actually two different things. You will push, possibly for hours, before ever seeing the head of the baby. Crowning specifically refers to the time when the head of the baby is visible and stays visible. Thus the word "crowning" since it will almost appear as though a crown is around the head of the baby.
What does crowning feel like?
Some women do feel a "ring of fire" when the head of the baby crowns. Generally this feels like burning or stinging. Some women report it as being very painful, some never even notice this sensation. Don't be afraid of crowning- it is a good sign and you will meet your baby soon! If you do experience crowning as a painful, burning sensaion, it is almost always over VERY quickly.
Rather than fearing the "ring of fire" during crowning, I hope that women will be tuned into their body and listen to it at this point. That burning sensation is your body telling you to "back off" for a moment and allow those tissues to stretch so that they don't tear. Your body is smart. It is not your enemy. It will try to talk to you. You will be better able to listen to it if you are able to feel it because you are unmedicated and not numb. (This might be one of the reasons why some care providers feel that tearing is worse when women are numb.)
The time of crowning is often very short and exciting. You will meet your baby soon.
So what does pushing feel like? It is a little different for every woman. But pushing is nothing to fear and is a wonderful time when you get to work with your body to get your baby out. You will meet your baby soon!
If you would like more information on how to push in labor, check out this post.