Labor Breathing Techniques

Having a baby for the first time can be a stressful and frightening prospect, particularly if you allow yourself to overdramatize labor in your mind beforehand, which most new moms unintentionally tend to do. 

Being stressed when you go into labor can leave your body tensed, your muscles rigid, and your breathing shallow, all of which are not conducive to easy labor. One great relaxation and pain relief technique during labor is breathing rhythmically, which can help release the tension in your body and optimize the amount of oxygen that you and your baby get, both of which are paramount for your baby’s and your own wellbeing.

Finding the Rhythm

Take a moment to calm down and focus on your breathing and its normal rhythm. Notice how there’s a momentary pause before you exhale after every breath, and how your in-coming breath matches your out-going breath in length. 

Your aim should be to practice maintaining this rhythm consciously both when you’re feeling relaxed as well as when you’re stressed out during your pregnancy. Doing so will help you gain greater control over your breathing, so that when you’re finally in labor and are experiencing contractions you can use this breathing exercise to regulate and deepen your breathing and relax your body.

Simple Breathing Techniques

Easy-to-use yet effective breathing techniques that you should practice include the following:

• Word Repetition: Choose a two-syllable word, such as “relax”, and break it down into two parts, using each part to correspond with breathing in and breathing out. For example, think “re” when you breathe in and “lax” when you breathe out. Keep repeating the word in your mind in sync with each breath and don’t let your mind wander off. Identify which areas of your body are tense and try to release the tension in your muscles when you breathe out. 

• Counted Breathing: Slowly count up to three or four when you inhale, pause, and then breathe out while keeping your breath measured to reach the count of three or four as well. If you find inhaling to the count of four difficult, count only up to three and exhale to the count of four. 

• Nose-Mouth Breathing: Some people find breathing in through their nose and exhaling through their mouth an easier method to use when regulating their breathing. If you decide on adopting this technique, make sure to keep your facial muscles and mouth relaxed when you exhale. Some women find it more comfortable to make “oooh” or “aaah” sounds when breathing out during contractions.

Breathing Support

It’s one thing to keep your breathing rhythmic when you’re not in pain, and another matter entirely when you’re trying to do so while dealing with contractions. To help keep you focused on breathing rhythmically, consider having a birth partner with you during labor, as they can keep your breathing steady by practicing the breathing exercise along with you.

If you do bring along a birth partner, make sure to maintain eye contact while using the breathing exercise and follow their breathing pattern. Try practicing this first during your pregnancy so that it’s easier to do when you’re in labor.

Breathing & Pushing

Sometimes doctors will ask mothers during their second stage of labor to hold their breath and push for as long as they can; this practice is no longer considered recommendable, as there is no medical evidence that it helps the baby; in fact it might even increase your risk of tearing. Instead, push when you feel the urge to push, and make sure to take several breathes in between each push. 

In the case that you are asked not to push because your cervix is not fully dilated yet, try a side-lying pose or a hands-and-knees pose to decrease your urge to push. When your contraction is upon you, pant quickly four times, take in a quick breath and then pant four more times. Repeat this process throughout your contractions, and try to breathe normally between contractions.