Breathing Techniques for Labour
Anyone who has had a baby can tell you what a trying and painful experience labour and birth can be. There is a large variety of different things that labouring women can do to help themselves get through their labour and birth. Everything from strong pain medication to simple mental preparation is used to help labouring women manage pain and discomfort.
One thing in particular that is probably a good idea for every pregnant woman to learn before the big day is breathing techniques for labour. Good breathing techniques can help women to get through labour and achieve a natural birth, but even if you plan to get an epidural or some other pain medication, breathing techniques can be beneficial.
Benefits of Breathing Techniques During Labour
There is a myriad of benefits to proper breathing, especially during labour. It’s about more than just getting through contractions, although that is an important benefit! The benefits of a good breathing technique during labour are:
- Helps to provide adequate oxygen to the mother and baby
- Gives baby a little extra bit of oxygen during contractions
- Keeps you focused on something other than the pain
- Helps you to stay calm and relaxed
- Can help let your partner and care givers when you’re having a contraction
- Helps to release built up tension after a contraction
When to Employ Breathing Techniques During Labour
It’s a great idea to start implementing breathing techniques as soon as labour begins. The early parts of labour are easy to cope with so it’s a great time for you to get into a good rhythm of how to handle contractions before they get more difficult to deal with. As each contraction begins, practise your breathing technique of choice.
Focus on your breathing technique for the duration of the contraction, and then breathe regularly in between your contractions.
Different Types of Breathing Techniques for Labour
There is no one perfect breathing technique for labour. What works wonders for one labouring woman may not help a different labouring woman at all. Learn about different breathing techniques throughout your pregnancy and practise them before the big day. That way you can get an idea of what may work best for you when the time comes.
1. Patterned or Conscious Breathing
Have you ever seen a movie with a labouring woman rapidly breathing sounding something like “heeheehoohoo”? That comes from a method of getting through labour known as Lamaze.
When Lamaze first started and became popular, it was all about breathing in a very specific pattern. Since then, we have come to know that being too specific in your breathing technique can have negative effects. Now, Lamaze instructors teach patterned breathing which is much less specific than it used to be.
To practice patterned breathing, you simply breathe in a consistent pattern of whatever is comfortable for you. Most women find consistent deep and slow breaths most comfortable and helpful during labour.
2. Yoga Breathing
Yoga is method of using exercise, meditation and breathing techniques to improve overall well-being. Some women find it helpful to use the breathing techniques you learn through yoga in their labour. There are tons of different yoga breathing techniques, but one that is supposed to help intensify focus and help with labour is called Ujayii.
To practice Ujayii breathing, hold your hand in front of your face as if it were a compact mirror. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth onto your hand – almost like your fogging the mirror with your breath.
Make a sort of “Haaa” sound while you do this. Now, try to do the same thing but with your mouth closed. Continue to try to do the “Haaa” sound but breathe out through your nose instead.
3. Surge Breathing
Another method that some women use to get through their labour is called HypnoBirthing. This method focuses on using deep relaxation techniques as well as self-hypnosis to get through labour. One of the techniques they use is called surge breathing. It’s designed to help expand your abdomen and lungs allowing optimal space for the muscles in your uterus to do their job of opening up your cervix.
To practice this breathing technique for labour, place your fingers on the middle of your belly barely touching each other. Then, breathe in slow and deep through your nose into your abdomen.
Breathe in as deeply as you can; as you take your breath, your fingers should separate. Slowly breathe out through your mouth and your fingers should return to their original position where they are just barely touching. Do this for 5 breaths.
4. Counted Breathing
A simple, but effective breathing technique that you can use during labour is counted breathing. It’s as easy as it sounds. You just count as you breathe. Count slowly as you breathe in and find a number that’s comfortable for you. Many women find 3 or 4 to be a good number to count to. Count slowly as you breathe in, and then count again as you breathe out.
Some women find it comfortable to count to one number while breathing in, but then a different number while breathing out. Just do whatever works best for you. Counted breathing helps you to focus and remain calm.
5. “Relax” Breathing
The word “relax” has two syllables which makes it great to think of as you breathe. A very basic breathing technique for labour is to simply think of this word while you do your breathing. As you breathe in, think “re- “, and as you breathe out, think “-lax”.
It gives you something to focus on to help distract you from the pain and make it through each contraction. You can actually choose anything to think of that has two syllables, it doesn’t have to be the word “relax” if you prefer something else.
Partner Involvement with Breathing Techniques for Labour
Having a partner to help you through labour and birth can be extremely helpful and beneficial. Your partner can help with many things throughout your labour, and your breathing techniques are certainly one of them. Labour usually becomes very intense and it can be difficult to focus and remember to breathe properly.
This is where your partner comes in!
They can help to remind you to breathe properly, and can even practice the breathing techniques with you.
Make sure that during your pregnancy, your partner also learns whatever breathing technique or techniques you plan to use. That way they can be prepared to help you with your breathing during labour.
Universal Tips for Breathing Techniques for Labour
No matter what breathing technique you decide to use, there are some important things to always remember:
- Avoid breathing too rapidly as this can cause hyperventilation
- Breathing should always be comfortable and feel natural
- Breathing techniques should not make you feel lightheaded or faint
- You should practise your breathing techniques before labour
- It’s okay to make noises as you exhale – many women find this helpful
- Never hold your breath – it reduces oxygen supply and can negatively impact you and your baby
Proper Breathing is Crucial for All Pregnant Women to Learn
It can be surprising how something as simple as the way you breathe can have such a major impact on how you feel – especially as you go through labour, but breathing properly is so important. Learning good breathing techniques for labour is something all pregnant woman should do.
Even if you plan to use pain medication during labour or even if you have to have a cesarean, good breathing techniques can help to reduce anxiety, ensure adequate oxygen supply for both you and your baby, and help you stay relaxed and focused.
Something else that’s great about learning good breathing techniques is that you can use them even beyond your pregnancy and labour. They are great for stressful situations of all kinds, which will definitely come in handy during your journey through motherhood!