During this second stage of labor, you will push to help your baby finish the descent through your pelvis and into your birth canal. Although every instinct will be urging you to keep pushing, it's best to follow your doctor or midwife's direction on exactly when and how to push. If this is your first birth, the second stage of labor can last a couple of hours; if you've already had one or more children, it tends to be shorter.
As birth crowning takes place and your baby's head begins to emerge through your vaginal opening, you may experience a sensation of burning and stretching that Burns calls "the ring of fire." This is because your baby's head is stretching your vaginal tissue, and usually lasts only a few minutes. You might be advised to change positions or told to ease up on the pushing, which can be difficult but can also reduce the risk of vaginal tearing. Once the "ring of fire" feeling passes, the major part of labor is over. (If you've had an epidural, you might not experience this feeling at all.)
During the pushing process, Burns suggests trying an upright, squatting position to make tearing less likely. She also recommends following your natural urges to push. Even though this is probably the most painful part of labor, it helps to relax as much as possible. "Light breathing - taking short, shallow breaths in and out as if blowing out a candle on a birthday cake - can help minimize tearing," she says. This helps you resist the urge to bear down with all your might, which, if your baby's head is on your perineum, can cause a tear.