Learning to breathe and relax during a contraction helps release your body’s natural pain relievers – endorphins!
It’s entirely normal for your breathing pattern to change during labour in response to the following:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Lack of control
- The sensations of birth, including pressure and pain
- Tiredness or exhaustion.
This may show up as holding your breath, breathing more quickly, or even hyperventilating. This means you’re taking in less oxygen which can make you feel more anxious and leave you exhausted.
The benefits of breath work
Learning to focus on your breathing, keep a steady rhythm, and adapt your breathing for different stages of labour offers many benefits. It can:
- Reduce your heart rate and blood pressure
- Help you feel more relaxed and in control
- Improve the flow of oxygen to all your muscles, including your uterus
- Help you cope better with the pain of contractions
- Help you conserve energy.
Changing your breathing techniques during labour
During early labour, try to breathe slowly and rhythmically. Breathe deeply through your nose and slowly release the breath through an open, relaxed mouth. As you get into a rhythm, notice any tension in your body, such as your jaw or shoulders. Relax these muscles. Try to lengthen your out breath, as it can help you feel even more relaxed and calm.
As labour progresses and your contractions become more powerful, you may need to take shorter, quicker breaths during the contraction, returning to deeper breaths as the sensations subside. Try to keep your mouth and jaw relaxed as you quicken your breath. Avoid holding any tension in your body, as this will sap your energy and make the contractions more painful.
When you reach the second stage of labour, you may feel the urge to push. Listen to your body and try not to hold your breath as you do this. Focus on relaxing your pelvic floor and breathing, ideally through open lips, as you push. Your midwife will be there to support you! They may advise you to stop pushing as your baby’s head emerges. Panting or gentle blowing can help birth your baby’s head slowly while trying to avoid tearing.
The role of your birth partner
Practice breathing with your birth partner during pregnancy. It will help them support you more effectively during labour by:
- Learning to breathe at the same rate so you can follow their lead when necessary
- Counting breaths to help you stay in control
- Reminding you to relax your jaw and shoulders
- Reminding you to release any tension you may be holding in your body
- Linking your breathing techniques to other coping strategies, such as positive affirmations or massage.
Other coping strategies and pain relief
Breathwork is the foundation of many natural coping strategies, including:
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Using positive affirmations
- Active birth positions
Using these different coping strategies doesn’t preclude you from also using medical pain relief. There is no right or wrong way to give birth. Everyone is an individual with a different pain threshold and individual needs.
Consider medical pain relief as another set of tools in your coping strategies toolbox. Using these tools doesn’t mean you have failed. It simply means you accessed the tools you needed for your birth experience. You can still use your natural coping strategies alongside medical pain relief.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice, and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. New Life Classes disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.