Breathing techniques for labour
If you’ve ever watched a film with someone giving birth you’ll be familiar with the idea of panting
while in labour, but did you know there are a whole range of breathing techniques which can be used during various stages of the labour process to keep you and baby healthy?
Why should I use breathing techniques during labour?
If you’re not the yoga type, the idea of using breathing techniques might sound a little silly, but they can be hugely beneficial for you and your baby. Relaxation techniques, including breathing, have been shown to reduce stress and the chances of requiring an assisted birth, as well as ensuring your baby has enough oxygen during labour to stay healthy and helping you conserve energy. Breath holding and panic breathing (hyper ventilation) may make you more tense, frightened and anxious so it’s well worth getting some practice in.
When should I use breathing techniques?
Different techniques are appropriate for different stages of labour, but you don’t need to wait until your waters burst to start practising.
Breathing for the first stage of labour
In early labour your contractions will be around 20 minutes apart and you will be up to 3cm dilated. During your contractions you can start practising ‘Sigh Out Slowly’ (SOS) breathing.
Breathe in slowly through your nose. Try to keep your ‘Sigh out’ breath slightly longer than your ‘in’ breath and try to sigh as if just hard enough to make a candle flame flicker.
Before the birth, your partner can practise breathing at the same rate as you and can time your breathing for you, to practice the length of contraction. You can practice by imagining a contraction is arriving – greet the first discomfort with a sigh, then relaxing and breathe through the pain and ending with a sigh. Breathing and relaxation through a contraction helps discomfort by releasing endorphins which are the body’s own natural pain reliever.
Breathing for the second stage of labour
During the second stage of labour you need to use your breath control to help push your baby out.
It’s likely you’ll feel the urge to push, but hold off until the midwife tells you to.
You’re almost there! At this stage you might feel a little scared and your breathing might become panicked which is not best for you or baby.
Have your birthing partner help you maintain your breath control at this point by breathing with you. Physical or eye-contact between you and your partner can keep you in sync. It’s a good idea to practise this together before you go into labour to ensure you both know what you’re doing.
Your antenatal class should cover breathing techniques, but there are also a huge range of resources online to help you learn and practice. Try searching YouTube for ‘labour breathing techniques’ or using a meditation app such as Breathing Space or Calm.
When you contraction starts breathe in and out gently. It’s likely you’ll feel the urge to push around 3-4 times per contraction. When you feel the urge, take a deep breath then continue to breath in and out slowly. Do not hold your breath while pushing and try to relax you pelvic floor muscles. Let your body lead you at this point, though you may need some guidance from your midwife if you’ve had an epidural.
Finally as your baby crowns, stretching the perineum, your midwife may ask you to stop pushing and pant your way through the last stages of delivery. Slow panting or gentle blowing (as if you’re causing a candle flame to gently flicker) can help your baby to emerge slowly and help avoid tearing.