Breathing for Labor

Breathing Techniques for Coping with Labor Pain

Couple breathing in practice for labor
Photo © Getty Images

Breathing for labor is something that many women come to childbirth class looking for these days. In my classes, I assure my students that they were breathing long before they signed up for my class and know plenty about how and when to breathe already. While the "Lamaze breathing" is no longer routinely taught in many childbirth classes, Lamaze or not, it can still be a helpful technique to look at and learn in addition to other for of relaxation and pain relief techniques.

The first thing that you will want to do is a breathing awareness technique. This is often done in yoga classes as well as many childbirth classes because the breath is known to be something that can be relaxing. Simply sit comfortably and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly under your belly button. Get comfortable and relax, noting your breath. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing. You should try to find your own, comfortable, slow rhythm of breathing. It does not matter if you breathe in through your mouth or nose nor how you exhale. Typically this type of focus will help you slow your breathing and relax, this works even in labor, particularly with the help of your partner and/or doula.

Cleansing Breath

The cleansing breath or greeting breath is something that I think works wonders in labor when it comes to contractions. As a contraction is beginning you can use the cleansing breath to signal to yourself and others that you are about to focus on this contraction. To do this, simply start by taking a long, slow, deep breath in and slowly blowing it out. Someone women find that doing this twice at the beginning of a contraction helps them to focus a bit more on the task at hand. This is also the perfect way to say goodbye to a contraction, clear your body of unwanted tension and return to the restful state in between contractions. This can be used alone or with other relaxation or breathing methods.

Patterned Paced Breathing

Patterned paced breathing can mean many different things. Some women like a prescribed method of breathing as a form of distraction. Some will choose a slightly faster version of their own natural breathing, such as twice the normal breathing rate. If this is not your style, you could also use a slower breathing with an occasional sound or sigh thrown in for the release of tension. Think about it as breathing normally for a few seconds and throwing in an "ah" every few breaths. You may also see this done with counting where the husband or doula counts to help the woman meet a certain pattern that she is choosing. While many women today do not wish to do this, some find it very comforting, saying that they are able to focus on something external as opposed to internal. This is also a good place to add vocalization, be it spontaneous or rehearsed.

This is also the breathing that is often shown on television or movie births. The hee hee hoo type of breathing. After a cleansing breath, you would simply breathe and say the words until the contraction was over, finishing with another cleansing breath. They are meant to be rhythmic and comforting. If this is not your speed, don't do it, as there are many other things available to your for relaxation. But if you try it and it helps, then add it to your list of labor coping skills.

Focal Point

A focal point is merely something to look at in labor. It could be a special picture that you brought from home or a flower. It can also be a specific spot you found on the wall where you are giving birth. Some women like having a focal point, while others are not so impressed. A focal point is an external focus which may or may not seem natural to you. Another option is to look into the eyes of one of your support people, this eye to eye technique is great, particularly if you are feeling a bit panicked or overwhelmed. If you prefer, as many women do, to keep your focus internal and close your eyes, that works too!

The Bottom Line

Breathing is something that you know how to do. Certainly, your breath can help focus you and relax you. During your pregnancy spend some time trying to figure out which one works best for you, knowing that labor may change your mind.

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Article Sources
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  • Prepared Childbirth: The Family Way. Amis, D and Green, J. Seventh Edition, 2007.