Birth Sensations & Protecting The Perineum Through It All

15 Mar

Birth-Sensations-&-Protecting-the-Perineum

Let’s talk about the perineum! (Yeah, high-five if you’ve got one – okay, it’s no secret everyone has one.) It’s a big concern among expectant moms, will my perineum make it out alive?

Sometimes in my childbirth classes I can literally see a huge floating question mark sitting on the tops of women’s heads. Like a thought bubble pleading silently, “Can you talk about vaginas, now!? Will mine ever look the same!? Will I be normal after birth? What will happen to my perineum during childbirth?”

Well, before we answer those questions we need to understand some of the sensations women may experience during childbirth and what we can do to protect the perineum through it all.

Alright, let’s dive right in, shall we? First let’s examine the vagina, or rather the vulva, and talk about the perineum and what happens towards the end of labor:

Screen shot 2013-03-14 at 1.33.42 PMThe perineum is the skin between the vagina and the anus, which thins out and stretches over the baby’s presenting part (usually the head) as it is born. (Source) During second stage (pushing) the perineum plays an especially vital role in the birth of the baby.

Okay, let’s talk about what’s going on down there as we approach second stage!

(“Down there” and “bottom” are lite and easy words that I use to describe the vagina, vaginal opening, vulva, perineum and rectum. These are the words my midwife used with me and I will use them with you! Okidoki?)

Building Pressure:

As baby descends and engages and labor deeply progresses, a woman will experience increasing pressure in her bottom as her pelvic passage begins to stretch open. Often, the stimulation sends a signal to a laboring mother’s brain that she needs to have a bowel movement. And sometimes that’s exactly what a laboring mother may do.

I’ve worked with a lot of moms who, while in the thick of labor, look up at me with urgency and quickly move to the bathroom. Baby’s decent stimulated her bowels. On occasion the laboring mother may have a genuine need to go (this is nature’s lovely way of making sure that doesn’t happen during second stage), or other times the mom may simply relax on the toilet, letting her muscles soften till she becomes more comfortable with these new sensations. Either response is totally normal.

Keep in mind, the pressure felt during birth is sometimes really alarming, because, let’s be honest here, we’ve spent our whole life learning to be discrete about the urge to poop. But in the case of childbirth (and possibly a few other occasions!) this sensation is cause for celebration, it tells us baby is descending and the mother is moving closer towards holding her baby in her arms.

Grunting:

Often at this stage in labor, you’ll begin to hear mothers grunt at the peak of their contractions. Imagine, mom is moaning through her contraction and suddenly her breathy bellowing goes like this, “ooooooooooooooh, oooooooooooooooooh, ooooo uh, uh, uh, uh, uhr, uhr, uhr, oooooooooh, oooooooh, oooooh”

Aha! That’s a great sound! Those short little grunty noises that mom just made in the middle of her contraction signal that her body is beginning to involuntarily push at the peak of her rush.

Stations-of-Presentation

As baby descends, increasing pressure is felt in the bottom and the rectum is stimulated.

Supportive Hands:

You’ll also sometimes see, as a laboring mother begins to feel that all-consuming pressure, that she will place her hands right on her bottom, cupping her groin and supporting her vulva. That’s wonderful and absolutely normal! Besides for giving her bottom additional support during this stage, it also allows the laboring mother to stay more in touch and in control of her body’s response to labor. What’s not to love!?

Pressure, grunting, and supportive hands are clear signs that birth is progressing…

Does that mean it’s time to push yet? No, not necessarily. It only means what she’s telling us from her body language: her bottom is feeling pressure, things are being stimulated, baby is descending and birth is progressing normally.

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Enjoy, Accept, Relax

At this transitional stage between first and second stage of labor, it’s ideal for mom to not add additional force (just yet!) as she begins to feel those early urges to push. As her uterus contracts, the bands of muscle thicken at the top of the fundus and begin to push down on their own, expelling baby further into the birth canal, this is the beginning of what will soon become a very strong urge to push.

It’s a good idea at this cross-road in labor to encourage mom to enjoy knowing just how well her body is working, accept the intensity of the change in sensations she’s feeling, and relax into her rushes a little more fully. This provides mom with an opportunity to wrap her brain around the idea of what the pushing urge feels like before diving right into it.

Powerful Pressure | Second Stage | Pushing

As labor thickens into heavy travail (an old Biblical word that I feel really adequately describes transitional labor) the intensity of pressure a woman begins to feel increases exponentially.

Baby’s head is now stretching the vaginal and pelvic floor muscles. Receptors in these tissues trigger involuntary pushing, and signal more oxytocin to the body – a complex hormone which stimulates contractions. (Source) A woman will now begin to feel the urge to push through almost the entirety of her contraction and not just the peak of it.

Mom will need reassurance at this point that she is okay, she needs to know that the pressure she feels is normal, and that even if she’s absolutely convinced she will birth her baby out of her butt, she will not. (Yeah, I said it.)

The intensity of the pressure is admittedly scary, but it’s also needed in order to bring forth baby into the world. And while it’s like nothing any first-time mother will have felt before, and can be utterly overwhelming, it is still very normal in terms of childbirth and not to be feared.

This is a doorway in labor that mothers walk through, there is no way around this passage of birth intensity, only through it. It is time to push!

Your-Baby's-Birth---Dr.-Miriam-Stoppard's-New-Pregnancy-and-Birth-Book

Please note, while these illustrations are fantastic, the information on step four regarding suctioning a baby is now contraindicated and outdated. Evidence now states that unless baby is unresponsive, suctioning is not necessary. Source: //www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2666857/

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

As mom pushes her baby down and out in that wonderful “J” shape of pushing, we’ll often see a little two-step dance, baby descends during the contraction, pressing on the perineum and the perineum begins to bulge and expand, and after the contraction ends, baby moves up and the perineum softens and relaxes. This happens over and over again.

This is a process my own midwives and mentors taught me to refer to as “two steps forward, one step back.” This dance is very important for the integrity of the perineum. It allows the skin to stretch slowly and gently, giving the perineum time to accommodate the baby’s head without tearing.

Ring of Fire

Once the head of the baby has firmly ducked under the pelvic bone, crowning will begin to take place. We use the term “crowning” to describe how the vaginal opening and vulva stretches around baby’s head looking like a crown.

As baby crowns, the labia and perineum begin to expand and bulge, this point is often referred to as the “ring of fire.” There is a lot of stinging and burning accompanied with the ring of fire, fortunately, it doesn’t last for too long, although we shouldn’t rush through it. This stinging sensation sends a message to the woman’s body to hold off on pushing. (Source)

(On a side note, sometimes as an exercise to describe the ring of fire to my students, I’ll ask them to stretch open the sides of their mouth with their fingers. I find this gives a good sense of the type of stinging that’s felt in birth. As a bonus, everyone looking ridiculous together usually gets us all laughing, which is always good when talking about crowning!)

During crowning it’s good for the laboring mother to stop adding additional force to her body’s own urge to push. Instead she should breathe out her baby and allow her body to do the work on its own. (This is something she has already practiced in birth during the transitional stage mentioned above. See, it all comes together now!)

You see, after the baby’s head is through the pelvis, only the tender perineal tissues are holding baby in (Source), and the mother needs to be mindful of not pushing too forcefully in order to protect this area of a her body.

How does she do that? She breathes her baby out…

Breathing Baby Out

Gentle, easy breaths that resemble panting allow the baby’s head to emerge slowly and tenderly, helping to keep the perineum intact. Actually, for many mothers breathing out her baby is an innate response to the ring of fire.

Think about it: a base response to pain, for all ages, are quick short breaths. I see my children do this all the time. A little high-pitched panting expression that happens when they’ve smashed their finger or stubbed their little toe.

Likewise, when mothers are left to labor without heavy coaching, at the point of crowning, you’ll sometimes see this panting and high-pitched breathing technique occur. (Watch some birth videos, and listen for that quick high-pitched breathy howl at crowning, and then you’ll start to see it all the time.)

Supporting The Perineum

Also, a mother’s hands may instinctively reach down again and apply pressure to her own perineum. Although, I should mention it’s quite common that you’ll see the midwife or OB apply slight counter pressure to a woman’s perineum at this stage too. Also, some care providers will apply a warm compress or olive oil to a mother’s perineum to assist in preventing tears.

To view a photograph of a crowning baby and a perineum stretching out beautifully in birth click this link from wisewomanchildbirthPerineum stretching in birth.

Once the baby’s head has fully crowned, it will only be another couple of pushes before baby is born. After the birth of the baby’s head, baby’s shoulders are delivered, and the rest of the baby’s body pours out from its mother shortly after.

It’s miraculous to see and testifies to the function and beauty of the female body.Women’s bodies are just amazing, y’all!

Mother-catching-her-baby

Image source unknown

There are a lot of things a woman can do that will increase her chances of having an intact perineum, here are a few of my tips, please note this list is not exhaustive or comprehensive:

  • Diet and hydration play a valuable role in the health of a woman’s perineum, for a great post on this go here: Protecting Your Perineum From The Inside Out
  • Practice pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy. (You may want to rethink Kegels, here’s a link that says why: Pelvic Floor Party, Kegels Are Not Invited)
  • A mother should avoid birthing on her back, but rather birth on her side, in an upright and or squatting position, or on her hands and knees.
  • Warm compresses (not hot!) on the perineum during labor, or birth in warm water.
  • Avoid power pushing. Power pushing, or what is known as purple pushing, is when a woman holds her breath for long periods of time and pushes beyond what feels comfortable or natural to her body. This type of pushing increases a woman’s chance of tearing.
  • Avoid widely flexed legs. Knees should be pointing forward and not to the sides. Source | Source
  • Follow her own body’s cues during crowning and slow down her pushing.
  • Use a mirror, if she’s comfortable with that. Seeing what’s happening during second stage can help the mother connect to her body, and allow her to direct her body’s urges better.
  • The laboring mother should move to positions that are most comfortable for her during second stage. For example, the mother could say, “Before my next contraction starts, I would like to turn to my left side. Would you help me do this, please?”
  • Hire a doula! A doula reduces a woman’s need for an epidural and for forceps delivery, both of which increase the laboring mother’s odds of perineal damage.
  • The mother should find a care provider who supports birthing in ways which allow for an intact perineum.

Related articles

What You Don’t Know About Episiotomies Can Hurt You (parenting.blogs.nytimes.com)

Get Through Childbirth in One Piece!

Avoiding Tears and Episiotomies

Perineal Protectors (read the comments, too!)

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21 Responses to “Birth Sensations & Protecting The Perineum Through It All”

  1. Heather March 16, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

    Fantastic article! Thank you so much for writing this. It was most helpful.

    • Joy March 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I appreciate knowing you found it helpful!

  2. Zeresh Altork March 17, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    What an awesome article on the perineum and pushing stage! Now this is how it works when there is no interference or “coaching” :)

    • Joy March 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Ann Charles March 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

    Thank you for this! I love your conversational style – feels like you are sitting next to me on the sofa and explaining it all!

    • Joy March 19, 2013 at 11:47 am #

      That’s exactly how I want it to feel! Like I’m talking to a friend! Yay!

  4. YLMBreadless (@YLMBreadless) March 18, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    wonderful! I had always wanted to breath out a baby but it seems my body has other plans :) Once my body begins to push on its on all bets are off and baby flies out. Last one was almost born on the toilet.
    i wish every pregnant woman could read this. so much amazing information

    • Joy March 19, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Some babies rush right out, don’t they!?

  5. robin March 24, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    What a great write up! I wish I would have had this exact article available to me in all of my 3 pregnancies, but esp my 1st! Thanks so much for this!

  6. rachelpassionatural March 25, 2013 at 11:24 pm #

    Thank-you for this article! It is very well written and informative. I will save it for other mamas and mamas-to-be to read.

  7. lovemags September 9, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Reblogged this on Maggie Marie and commented:
    I might be in love with this woman, what a great website. These are some good tips about the perineum. I especially like the tip on “power pushing”, it is in line with my experience and observation.

  8. Deena Blumenfeld (@ShiningLghtPE) November 15, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    Great article! teach these things in my classes. Thanks for putting them together in such a wonderfully concise and mom-friendly manner!

  9. frani January 26, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    Thank you, from Argentina, i love your blog and how you explain everything. Really amazing and so encouragibg. Thank you, thank you, thank you. ♥

  10. Etta's Threads April 20, 2014 at 2:00 am #

    This article is amazing! I learned so much clicking on the links and reading the birthing stories. It was shocking to read that kegels are more detrimental than helpful but after reading the full article it makes complete sense! I am just entering my second trimester and I am going to make sure to do squats at least a few times a day. Thank you for taking the time to create this article!

  11. Sandi May 6, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    Great information! Will definitely keep this in mind when I have my baby, and I’ll be sharing this with all my pregnant friends. Thank you!

  12. beach themed bedrooms August 16, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

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  13. margareth August 22, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    “Ring of Fire” – Is it not an implication of pain?
    Which kind of words do we use to describe a birth.

    “Once the head of the baby has firmly ducked under the pelvic bone, crowning will begin to take place. We use the term “crowning” to describe how the vaginal opening and vulva stretches around baby’s head looking like a crown.”

    If the head comes out by crowning it comes with the diameter fronto-occipitalis, a bigger diameter as the suboccipito-bregmaticus and therefore crowning has the higher risk for perineal tears. The midwife would try to figure it out that the minimum diameter can pass the vulva without any tears.

    best regards

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Utah Doula | Weekly Roundup of Web Links | Andrea Lythgoe Doula Salt Lake City Utah - April 3, 2013

    [...] Fabulous article discussing the sensations of the pushing stage, what’s happening physiologically, and how to birth without an episiotomy or tear. (Yes, it IS possible!) [...]

  2. Birth Sensations and Protecting the Perineum | ___Love's Labor Birth Services___ - September 9, 2013

    […] http://thejoyofthis.com/2013/03/15/birth-sensations-and-protecting-the-perineum-through-it-all/ […]

  3. Joy’s Top Ten Most Read Posts in 2013 | The Joy of This - December 31, 2013

    […] 1.Birth Sensations & Protecting The Perineum Through It All: This one gets down to the nuts and bolts of third stage (pushing) and what it feels like. I offer suggestions, tips and explanations on how to push effectively without damaging the perineum. […]

  4. Joy’s Top Ten Most Read Posts of 2013 | The Joy of This - December 31, 2013

    […] 1.Birth Sensations & Protecting The Perineum Through It All: This one gets down to the nuts and bolts of third stage (pushing) and what it feels like. I offer suggestions, tips and explanations on how to push effectively without damaging the perineum. […]

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