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  • Writer's pictureMa Doula

Breathing in labour

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Breathing exercises during labour usually involve deep inhalation and exhalation. Studies suggest that controlled breathing can enhance relaxation and decrease the perception of pain (via the Gate Control Theory).

In labour, pain will inevitably make you hold your breath, and holding your breath will make the pain worse. This is why it is important to use some diaphragmatic, slow, controlled breaths, as a way to unlock your breathing when the pain wants to immobilise it.

A pregnant woman relaxing

Before and after each contraction, it is helpful to use what is called a "cleansing" or "organising" deep breath, to prepare for the intensity of the contraction and celebrate when it's over.

During the first stage of labour, some of the important techniques include:

  • Starting with an organising breath;

  • Breathing in through the nose, pause, and breathing out through the mouth (with or without pursed lips);

  • Maintaining a rhythm, either using pattern breathing (inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 4, or adjusting the count based on your comfort) or 4-7-8 breathing (inhaling through your nose for a count of 4, holding your breath for a count of 7, exhaling slowly and completely through your mouth for a count of 8);

  • Focusing on one simple physical item, such as a photograph or your partner.

As labour progresses, most women will need to combine their breathing patterns with other techniques such as vocalisation, visualisations or movement. What you can do is:

  • Focus on the feeling of your breath at the exclusion of everything else;

  • Ask everyone to remain silent and focus on the sounds you make when you breathe;

  • Ask your partner to breathe with you and count;

  • Sway, rock, stomp or walk while breathing;

  • Say "yes" during the outward breath and "open" during the inward breath;

  • Add visualisations to your breathing.

Some visualisations include:

* Blowing a candle when breathing out, causing the candle flame to gently flicker ; * Blow through an imaginary circle;

* Imagine your cervix opening.

Some other techniques that I recommend to my clients are:

  • Lying down on your side, place your upper hand on the ground in front of you to support you, and rock your body back and forth while breathing.

  • The Hummingbird breathing technique. This involves:

* Placing both of your index fingers inside each of your ears or on your forehead above your eyebrows;

* Inhaling through your nose, slowly exhaling through your mouth;

* Making a humming or buzzing sound, either out loud or in your mind;

* Gently pushing on your cartilage at the same time.

Source: The Latch

During the second stage of labour, you may be asked to use panting breaths (breathing in and out lightly and quickly). This will help you control the urge to push and allow your baby’s head to emerge slowly. When it is time to push, you may be asked to tuck your chin and push while holding your breath.

Remember that different techniques work for different individuals, and it's important to stay flexible and adapt to what feels most comfortable during labour.



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