Breathing For Labor and for Life
Learning to breathe differently may sound difficult, but in fact, certain
breathing techniques can become second nature, given time and practice.
In order to learn therapeutic ways of breathing, however, we have to become
aware of what we are doing.
When you breathe, you take air into your lungs. The oxygen in the air passes
through the walls of the lungs and into the bloodstream, then circulates
throughout the body, nourishing the internal organs.
your are pregnant, it also passes through the walls of the womb into the
placenta, where it supplies oxygen to your growing baby. The bloodstream carries
the waste product
carbon dioxide away from the organs (and your baby) back to the lungs so that
you can breathe it out. During this process the diaphragm moves up and down,
massaging the internal organs and muscles. Irregular breathing causes movements
of the diaphragm that are also irregular and not performing their function
properly. Breathing too fast often means inhaling before the last breath is
properly exhaled, leaving stale air in the lungs and impending the flow of
oxygen to the rest of the body - and to your baby.
All breathing begins with a Deep Cleansing Breath
Inhale-through the nose (if possible), keeping shoulders
Exhale-through the mouth, letting go of all the tension in
During exercise, you can
make the most of your movements or stretches by breathing out during the
movement that requires the most effort.
Breathe in through the nose, and out
through the mouth.
Don't hold your breath at the same time that you are
contracting a muscle - this can impede blood flow and cause dizziness. Keep your
breathing moderately deep and regular.
When relaxing, concentrate on your breathing.
Again, breathe in through the
As you inhale, imagine that you are breathing in calmness and
As you exhale, think of breathing away all the tension in your
Breathe more slowly and deeply than usual.
Breathing During Labor
Controlled breathing is sometimes taught as a technique for managing the pain of
contractions in labor. Breathing regularly helps you to avoid the tendency to
tense up with fear or discomfort-which then increases pain. To prepare for
childbirth, you can learn different ways of breathing and practice them so that
you are confident and prepared when labor begins. None of these techniques is
intended to take your mind off labor. Instead, they offer you a way to work with
your body and adapt as the demands upon it change.
All pushing contractions should begin and end with a cleansing
breath. You may use these methods of breathing during pushing.
Level 1: Relax and start breathing in. When you breathe out, make
a little more of an effort than you would normally, and imagine all the air
in your lungs being emptied out. Breathe in and out again in the same way,
keeping a slow, regular, gentle rhythm. Breathe this way between
Use this as you feel a contraction coming. Breathe a
little more quickly, and don't empty your lungs as you exhale. Continue
breathing quickly, without emptying your lungs completely through the peak
of the pain. As you feel the contraction ending, revert to slower breathing
so that when the contraction is over, you are at level 1. Signal the end of
the contraction with a long breath out.
Level 3: During transaction or toward the end of the first stage
of labor, your contractions may be intense, requiring all your strength and
concentration. Quick, shallow breathing will help. Breathe in quickly and
blow out, then breathe in quickly and blow out, then breathe in quickly
again. (This is not the same as panting.) Some women find it helps to
vocalize on the breath out - say "hoo hoo" as you do so, to maintain rhythm
and concentration. Keep your facial muscles relaxed
Getting It Right
It is easier to practice breathing techniques when you know you are doing it
Sit in a relaxed position. Hold a feather about 6 inches (15cm) away.
For level 1 breathing, the feather should flutter slightly but remain
upright as you breathe out. For level 2, the feather should move more
rapidly, as well as bend slightly but perceptibly away from you. For level
3, the feather should clearly bend away from you.
Perceptible backward curve
Definite bend backward
Sit in a relaxed position, so that your partner can place the palms of
his hands against your back, just below your waist. He can sit in front of
you or behind you, whichever is more comfortable. Alternatively, you can lie
on your side, with him sitting or lying next to you. He should feel a slight
movement under his hands when you are doing level 1 breathing
correctly. Ask him to move his hands up, so that they are in middle of your
back, behind your ribs. Level 2 breathing should cause movement under
his hands here. For level 3 breathing, your partner's hands should be
below your nape, where he should feel some very slight movement.
For a Lamaze certified childbirth instructor in your area, contact:
Lamaze International or