The process of giving birth is a natural and beautiful phenomenon, but labor isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. Whether you decide to perform a natural delivery or not, there are some breathing techniques that may help you through that discomfort.
Here are some methods to make labor easier on you and your baby. Patterned breathing involves the act of breathing at any range of feasible rates and depths. Some women prefer to breathe deeply through the use of their diaphragm to fill their abdomen with air. Other women favor light breathing, inhaling as much as necessary to fill their chest. Your intention should be to find breathing patterns that leave you feeling calm and relaxed. Your breathing should be at a rate in which you feel comfortable and shouldn’t make you feel winded or light-headed.
As you learn more about labor and birth, you’ll find that different patterns of breathing are used at different stages. You’ll figure out how to use breathing as a way to focus on making every contraction a productive part of the birthing process.
There are several benefits to mastering patterned breathing. It evolves into an automatic reaction to pain while also making you feel calm, collected, and in control. The steady pace of breathing is comforting throughout labor, and will allow you to be in a more relaxed state and respond in a more positive way to the first sign of pain. The increased oxygen will give you the strength and energy you need. It’ll bring focus to every contraction, making them more productive. You can also apply these techniques whenever you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious.
It’s important to inhale deeply at the start and end of every contraction. This not only helps hone you focus, but also gives off more oxygen for your baby, your muscles and your uterus.
For the first stage of labor, start breathing slowly once your contractions are too intense for you to be able to walk or talk through them without stopping. Breath slowly for as long as you find it useful. Transition to another pattern of breathing if you grow tense and can no longer relax through the contractions.
The key is to take a solid breath and release a big sigh as soon as the contraction starts. Let go of all tension (go limp from head to toe) as you exhale. Focus all your attention on your breath. Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth, as you allow all that air to flow out with a sigh. Through each exhale, focus on calming a different part of your body.
Most women feel the need to shift to light accelerated breathing at some point during the active phase of labor. Let the intensity of your contractions help you decide if and when to use light breathing. Breathe in and out quickly through your mouth at about one breath per second. Keep your breathing light. Your inhalations should make no sound, but your exhalation should be detectable.
Accelerate and lighten the breaths you take as the contraction gets more intense. If the contraction peaks earlier than you expected, then you’ll just have to accelerate early within the contraction. If it peaks more progressively, just build up to peak speed at a slower rate. Keep your mouth and shoulders relaxed.
Follow your light breath along with the peak of your contraction by advancing your breath rate. Breathe in and out through your mouth. Once your contractions start to decrease in intensity, you can slow down your breathing rate and return back to breathing through your nose and out your mouth.
Take your final breath and exhale with a sigh when the contraction ends.
There’s also a variation of light breathing referred to as variable (transition) breathing. It’s sometimes called “pant-pant-blow” or “hee-hee-who” breathing. Variable breathing integrates light breathing with a periodic longer or more prominent exhalation. Variable breathing is practiced in the first stage if you feel overwhelmed, unable to relax, in despair, or exhausted.
For this type of breathing, focus your attention on your partner or a focal point (i.e. a photo). Make sure to breathe through your mouth taking light breaths at a rate of 5-20 breaths in 10 seconds during the contraction.
After every second, third, fourth, or fifth breath, let out a longer breath. You may attempt expressing this longer exhale with a “who.”
When the contraction finishes, take one or two deep breaths with a sigh.
There will be times throughout both stages of labor when you’ll want to push or bear down, but it’s not the right time. Most women try to hold their breath during these especially challenging moments. Avoid holding your breath by breathing in and out consistently or by raising your chin and blowing or panting. This will keep you from adding to the pushing that your body is already doing.
For the second stage of labor, you’ll want to practice expulsion breathing. It’s helpful for when the cervix is completely dilated.
As you take a deep breath and allow your body to loosen up, focus on the baby moving down and out, or on another positive image.
Breathe slowly and let the contraction assist you. Speed up or lighten your breathing if necessary for comfort. When you can’t resist the urge to push, take a large breath, tuck your chin to your chest, curl your body and lean forward. Then bear down, while holding your breath or slowly letting out air by grunting or moaning. Remember to lax the pelvic floor. Help the baby come down by freeing any tension in the perineum.
After 5-6 seconds, let go of your breath, and breathe in and out. How hard you push is determined by your sensation. You will continue the process until the contraction dies down. The urge to push will come and go like waves throughout the contraction. Use these breaks as a chance to breathe deeply and sustain oxygen to your blood and baby.
When the contraction ends, allow your body to relax and take one or two calming breaths.
Learning breathing techniques such as these can help you feel less intimidated and more prepared for when the due date comes knocking. For more important women’s health tips like these, you can talk to Dr. Ghea, a female OBGYN in Fort Lauderdale who devotes herself to making sure you’re comfortable, answering all of your questions, and easing you through those intense months of pregnancy.
If you’re in need of a female obstetrician who you can feel open with speaking to about your pregnancy and well-being, make an appointment to visit her office at Westside OB/GYN Group by calling 954-473-2011 or by filling out a request online!