Learning how to utilise your breath to help you in labour is vital. And now is the perfect time to start practicing breathing techniques so that when your labour starts, you know exactly what to do and can calmly get into the flow!
So, before we get into some specific techniques, let’s start with the ‘why’.
Why is breathing so particularly important during labour?
1) Deep breathing helps to control pain. Whatever you may have heard, contractions and labour is painful! Learning how to use your breath is one of the best natural sources of pain relief available. Deep breathing triggers a meditative state of mind which helps to make our pain receptors less sensitive.
2) Deep breathing helps to lower stress levels. When we’re in labour our body and mind can feel out of control which can lead to elevated levels of the stressor hormone, cortisol. Cortisol in the blood does the opposite of helping the body to calm itself and prepare the body and mind for labour. Additionally, by breathing in a certain way (when the out-breath is twice as long as the in-breath) the body’s natural calming reflex is triggered.
3) Deep breathing maximises the amount of oxygen available to you and your baby. Oxygen helps the uterine muscles to work to push out your baby and lots of oxygen will help to keep your baby calm whilst they are being squeezed through the birth canal.
Now we know why effective breathing is so important in labour, let’s look at some useful techniques that you can use to help your labour be as calming, healthy and natural as possible.
Breathing Techniques for Early Labour: The Calm Breathing Technique
Position your hands on your diaphragm, so that you can feel your lungs rising and falling with each breath.
Breathe slowly in through your nose for a count of 4 and then out through your nose for a count of 8. Imagine breathing in so that the air travels all the way down your body to your toes. Then slowly and gently let the air escape again.
Repeat for 5 – 15 minutes as you practice this technique, during labour, practice this technique between your contractions, helping to keep you calm and in control.
At the beginning and end of each contraction remember to take a deep, cleansing, relaxing breath. This not only helps sharpen your focus, but also provides more oxygen for your baby, your muscles and your uterus.
As soon as you feel that it’s impossible to relax between contractions any more, switch to the next breathing technique:
The Active Breathing Technique
As soon as the contraction begins take a really deep breath in through your nose.
Breathe out through your mouth with the sound of a sigh. As you do this, focus all your attention on sending that breath down to your uterus and your baby. With each exhale focus on releasing the tension from a specific part of your body.
When all the air is out of your body you will feel a ‘need’ to breathe in. Let yourself breathe in time to the rhythm and the ‘need’ of your body so that the air comes in and goes out in a wave-like pattern. Ideally the in-breath and the out-breath will be the same length (but don’t worry if they’re not!)
Breathing Technique for the Active Stage of Labour: Light Breathing
During the active stage of labour it’s helpful to switch to a lighter pattern of breathing. This lighter breathing pattern is faster and you will be inhaling less air with each breath.
Breathe in and out through your mouth, keeping each breath light and shallow
Let the contraction guide the speed of your breathing. As the contraction increases in intensity try to increase the speed of each breath. Focus on one breath per second, if you can.
At the end of the contraction exhale loudly and try to relax all the muscles in your body.
When you are ready to birth your baby, and are fully dilated – it’s time to practice the following breathing technique:
Breathing for The Birth: Birth Breathing
The idea with Breathing for the Birth is to work with the natural contractions that the body is experiencing. Here the focus is on the out-breath and it’s important to make each exhalation long and deep.
As the contraction begins, inhale through the nose or mouth (whichever feels the most natural).
At the peak of the contraction exhale through the mouth slowly, deeply and for as long as you can. During the out-breath try to focus on opening up your body and relaxing as much as possible.
Once you are in the rhythm of this breathing technique add a noise to your out-breath. A loud ahhhh or shhhhh or ummmmm can really help to get into the flow and help that baby move down and out.
When you feel the urge to push, breath in deeply and lean forwards, tucking your chin in to your chest. Slowly release the breath with the noise you are using and keep visualizing the opening and relaxing of your pelvic floor.
Use the breaks between the contractions to breath deeply, ensuring that you relax your body and provide your muscles, and your baby, with the oxygen that you both need.
It’s important that you practice these breathing techniques so that you feel in control and have a focus in mind when you do go into labour.
If possible, spend at least 15 minutes per day practicing. Turn off the phone, put down your laptop and get comfy. If you want to, and have the time, light some candles and put on some calming classical music (you can always play the same music in labour to help anchor you to a calm and peaceful place).
Should things pop into your mind, just acknowledge them and bring your attention back to your breath.
And enjoy! Breathing deeply is wonderful for you, whether you’re in labour or not. Your baby will be flooded with a sense of calm and that all important oxygen and it provide some much needed relaxation time for you!