Breathing techniques for labor – exercise tips

Breathing techniques for labor can be a useful tool to help you cope with the discomfort of contractions. The techniques help you relax and can reduce your anxiety and pain perception during the most challenging phases of labor. Here are some tips on breathing exercises that can help you prepare for birth in the best possible way.

Breathing techniques for labor – exercise tips

Breathing techniques for labor can reduce discomfort

Breathing and relaxation go hand in hand. Knowing about good breathing techniques for labor and being able to use them at the right time will help you cope with the discomfort of contractions. The techniques may even reduce the need for medicinal pain relief during labor.

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Good breathing techniques for labor decrease anxiety, improve oxygenation, and encourage you to stay ‘present’ and active during labor. Your body releases less of the stress hormone, cortisol, and more of the pain-relieving hormones, endorphins, which has a calming and relaxing effect.

Good breathing techniques for labor decrease anxiety, improve oxygenation, and encourage you to stay ‘present’ during labor.

Preparation is crucial. It’s a good idea to start spending 10-15 minutes a day practicing breathing techniques as early as your second trimester.

Your options for exploring breathing techniques include childbirth classes, mindful birthing, conscious birthing workshops, yoga, and guided meditation.

Tips on breathing exercises to help you during labor

Slow breathing during early labor

Use slow breathing during early labor when your contractions start to become more regular. You can switch to another breathing technique when you feel that the one you are using is no longer working for you.

1. When a contraction begins, take a deep breath and consciously release all tension as you breathe out. Focus your attention on your breathing.
2. Slowly inhale through your nose and then slowly exhale through your mouth. You can count to 5 as you inhale and to 8 as you exhale to maintain your focus.
3. Pause for 1–3 seconds and repeat.

Read about how hypnobirthing can help you relax during childbirth

Light, accelerated breathing as an alternative in early labor

This breathing technique can be used in early labor or when slow breathing is no longer relaxing or effective.

1. Start with a cleansing breath (a deep and slow breath in through your nose and out through your mouth) as the contraction begins.
2. Accelerate your breathing as the contraction peaks by inhaling and exhaling at an increased speed. Breathe in and out through your mouth, with light and shallow breathing. It can be described as ‘puffing’.
3. Go back to your normal or slow breathing again.

You can switch to another breathing technique when the one you are using is no longer working for you.

Variable breathing during the transitional phase

The phase when your cervix dilates from 8 to a full 10 cm is called the transitional phase because it marks the shift to the second stage of labor. This is the most intense part of labor. Contractions are usually very strong, coming every two-and-a-half to three minutes. It is also the shortest stage of labor.

1. Start with a cleansing breath.
2. Breathe in. When you breathe out, make the ‘hee’ sound three times and then one long ‘hoo’ sound.
3. When the contraction subsides, you can take another cleansing breath.
4. Go back to your normal or slow breathing again.

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Expulsive breathing during the second stage of labor

Use this breathing technique when you feel the urge to push during the second stage of labor. Your cervix is now fully dilated at 10 cm.

1. Breathe comfortably until the urge to push becomes irresistible.
2. Then take a deep breath and hold it or slowly release it while bearing down for 5-7 seconds.
3. After bearing down, exhale any remaining air and breathe comfortably until you feel the next strong urge.
4. Repeat the same procedure. You may bear down 2-4 times in one contraction.
5. Finish with a cleansing breath. Some women find it helpful to grunt, moan or make low noises while bearing down.

Source: Colleen Brezine, CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife), University Hospitals St. John Medical Center, Cleveland, Ohio, USA