Breathing Techniques During Labour
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Despite its simplicity, breathing in the right way can be very effective during labour to help moderate the pain of childbirth. It's worth learning the best breathing techniques as part of your pre-natal preparations to provide you with another tool to combat the pain and potential stress of labour.
The importance of steady breathing
Rhythmic, steady breathing prevents your body from tensing up during a contraction. The more relaxed you are, the less painful the contraction should be. Steady breathing also allows you to draw in plenty of oxygen, which is good for your baby and makes your muscles work more effectively. Concentrating on breathing properly also acts as a distraction from the pain of labour. Finally, it's a good way to conserve precious energy that you will need for the demanding pushing stage.
Feeling scared might create tension and tightness within your body. This, in turn, will make your breathing become shallow and quick. As well as making labour more painful, breathing this way can have a negative impact on the progress of your labour by stopping the body's production of oxytocin. This hormone takes control of progressing labour, so it is vital that you continue to produce it.
Breathing techniques are something your birth partner can learn with you. Call upon your birth partner to keep you focused on your breathing during labour.
Breathing techniques for different stages of labour
Each stage of labour can benefit from the correct breathing technique. In general, you should take long, deep, slow breaths in the early part of your labour to help keep you relaxed. If you are at home and feel your contractions starting, then get used to breathing well from the start.
Apart from helping with the pain, breathing properly can give you a feeling of some control over your body and that all-important confidence in the early stages. If you go into labour and are alone, breathing slowly and deeply will help to keep you calm and relaxed while you wait for your birth partner.
It's important to keep the breathing rhythmical. Ensure that the 'in' breath doesn't become longer than the 'out' breath. When your contractions become very strong, your breaths will become shallower. This is fine unless your breathing starts to get much faster and you end up panic-breathing. Your midwife should be able to tell you if and when you are doing this.
How to breathe during labour
To help establish a good pattern, breathe in through your nose then out through your mouth, keeping your mouth soft as you almost 'sigh' the breath out. Many women find it helps if they make a sound such as 'aaaaaah' or 'oooooooh' during the out-breath.
You could also use the two syllables of the word 'relax'. On the 'in' breath, think 're' and on the 'out' breath, think a long and steady 'laaaax'. Counted breathing is a good way of trying to ensure that the 'out' breath is longer than the 'in' breath.
Whatever method you use, try to release any tensions stored up in your body on the all-important 'out' breath.
During the second stage of labour, breathing can be extremely important if you are asked by the midwife not to push because your cervix isn't yet fully dilated. This can be very difficult to do. In this instance, when you feel a contraction, take four short pants followed by a quick 'in' breath, then take four more short breaths. It might help to repeat the mantra 'I must not push' as you pant. Between contractions, breathe normally.
When the time comes to push your baby out, you can push as often as feels right for you. When each contraction starts, you should breathe in, then out gently, and when you have the urge to push, inhale deeply, tuck your chin against your chest and breathe out slowly. Try to listen to what your body is telling you.
Unless you are told otherwise by the midwife, don't hold your breath as you are pushing and remember to breathe in between each contraction.
When the baby crowns, your midwife may tell you to stop pushing and only pant. This helps to slow things down and can help prevent tearing. Stay focused and remember that it won't be long now until you get to meet your baby.
Remember to learn about breathing techniques before you give birth!
Pre-natal care on the NHS and sessions with groups such as the National Childbirth Trust will provide you and your partner with help on the best way to breathe during your labour. Many women also now attend specialist pre-natal yoga classes where the class leader may teach breathing.
It's worth taking the time to become more aware of your breathing and also to practise your breathing techniques during the pregnancy. This means you will get the most benefit from one of nature's best and simplest tools to help you through the rigours of labour.