Labor pain is probably the most intimidating and worrisome part of pregnancy, especially if you are a first-time mom. But what if we told you that you could manage labor pain well, by learning a few right ways to breathe? Breathing and relaxation techniques aim at harmonizing breathing patterns with the labor contractions to give you better control over your body.
In this MomJunction article, we will tell you about the different patterns and breathing techniques for labor pain management.
Do Relaxation And Breathing Techniques For Labor & Delivery Help?
Yes, they do. Controlled relaxation and breathing techniques work on enhancing the progression of labor and relieving the labor pains. They shift your focus from the sensation of contractions and decrease the intensity of discomfort or pain (1).
Slow-breathing exercises are believed to let you handle contractions better, and rhythmic breathing exercises could lower the risk of assisted and cesarean births.
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Importance Of Breathing And Relaxation Techniques During Labor
As you enter labor, your body gradually goes into a panic mode because of the stress of that moment. When you panic, your breathing is rapid and shallow and can lead to exhaustion, which increases risks in childbirth.
But controlled breathing and relaxation techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation or specific yoga moves, during labor will make the process more comfortable.
These techniques reduce the degree of pain, relax the muscles, and help manage contractions and breathing, giving you better control over your body (2).
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[ Read: Labor Pain Management Techniques ]
What is Patterned Breathing During Labor?
Patterned breathing is the act of breathing at specific rates and depths. While some women prefer light breathing by inhaling sufficiently to fill their chest, some others prefer deep breathing by using their diaphragm to fill the abdomen with air.
The aim is to find the right breathing pattern for a relaxing and calming effect. Ultimately, you should be comfortable breathing a certain way, without feeling lightheaded or breathless.
Pregnant or not, patterned breathing helps cope with different pains, anxiety, fear, and discomfort.
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What Are The Benefits Of Practicing Patterned Breathing?
The practice of patterned breathing (3):
- Becomes an automatic response to pain
- Offers relaxation, which might be necessary to deal with everyday stress in life
- Helps you learn a steady pattern of breathing that calms you during labor
- Makes contractions more productive
- Provides a sense of well-being, and also a measure of control
- Improves oxygen supply to the mother and the fetus
Keep reading to learn about specific breathing techniques for managing labor pain.
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Breathing Techniques For Different Stages Of Labor
To begin patterned breathing, you should take a deep and relaxing breath at the start and end of every contraction. This kind of breathing restores oxygen levels to the fetus and your muscles and uterus while helping you focus on labor.
[ Read: Exercises To Induce Labor Naturally ]
Breathing techniques for the first stage of labor
There are three kinds of breathing patterns you could try during the first stage of labor (4).
1. Slow breathing:
Begin to breathe slowly when the contractions become intense and make it difficult for you to talk or walk. Breathe slowly as long as it is helpful. Then swap to other patterns when you can no longer sustain these contractions.
- Be conscious at the beginning of your contraction. Give up all the tension from the head to toe as you exhale.
- Inhale gently through your nose, and exhale through mouth allowing all of the inside air out.
- Do not inhale until you feel like drawing in air.
- With every exhalation, focus on a different part of the body.
2. Light accelerated breathing:
You may want to swap to light breathing at some point during the active phase of labor. You’ll know when to switch to light breathing based on the intensity of the contractions. Inhale and exhale rapidly at the rate of one breath per second. Let the breathing be light and shallow. Your inhalations may be quiet, but exhalations will make a distinct sound.
- Breathe in an organized way as soon as the contractions start. Give up all the tension from the head to toe as you exhale.
- Gently inhale through your nose and exhale through the mouth. Then, accelerate your breathing to match the intensity of contractions. If the contractions peak sooner, you need to quicken your pace of breath accordingly.
- Keep your shoulders and mouth relaxed during this type of patterned breathing.
- When the breathing rate increases as the contractions peak, gently inhale and exhale through your mouth.
- As the intensity of contractions decreases, slow down the breathing rate, and swap to inhalation through the nose, and exhalation through the mouth.
- At the end of contractions, exhale to finish.
3. Variable (transition) breathing:
This is a different form of light breathing, also referred to as “hee-hee-who,” or “pant-pant-blow”. It involves light, shallow breathing combined with more extended exhalation. It is used when you are unable to relax, feeling overwhelmed, exhausted or in despair during the first stage of labor.
- Start with organized breathing at the start of the contraction. Give up all the tension from the head to toe as you exhale.
- Focus on something, such as an image or your partner.
- Take light shallow breaths through your mouth at a rate of five to 20 breaths in ten seconds.
- For every two to five breaths, take a long breath. You may verbalize the longer breath out with a “puh” or “who”.
- When the contraction stops, take a deep breath or two.
[ Read: Benefits Of Breathing Exercises In Pregnancy ]
Breathing techniques for the second stage of labor
With the cervix fully dilated in the second stage of labor, you can go for the next level of breathing patterns for managing the pain.
- Start to breathe as a contraction begins, while visualizing your baby moving down.
- Initially, breathe slowly to harmonize the breath with the contractions
- When you can no more resist the urge to push, breathe deeply by tucking the chin towards your chest and lean forward by curling your body.
- Hold your breath, and gently release the air in moans or grunts.
- Relax your pelvic floor, and release the tension in the perineal region to help the baby come down the birthing canal.
- After five to six seconds, release your breath, and breathe in and out in calming breaths for relaxation.
- Repeat these steps with the following contractions.
These breathing techniques help you to not only push the child out but also push at the right time.
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How Will Breathing Exercises Help Avoid Pushing At The Wrong Time?
During the difficult moments of labor, you may have a strong urge to push the baby down while holding your breath. However, it may not always be the right time to push, especially if you’re not nearing delivery, and holding your breath creates unnecessary pressure.
So when you have the urge to push, indulge in breathing exercises such as blowing or panting, or raising your chin to ease those difficult moments and avoid pushing at the wrong time.
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What Is Hypnobirthing And How Is It Helpful During Labor?
Hypnobirthing is a method of pain management to stay calm and in control during labor and childbirth. Benefits of this method include shortening the first stage of labor, lessening the pain, shorter stay in the hospital and relief from anxiety and fear postpartum (5).
You can learn hypnobirthing techniques such as:
- Positions for labor and childbirth
- Self-hypnosis and deep relaxation
- Controlled breathing techniques
- Manages the stress hormone, adrenaline, which lowers anxiety for a calmer birth.
- Helps manage stress to lessen your degree of pain and fear during labor.
- Enables you to manage anxieties due to previous traumatic labor experiences.
- Reduces the need for medical intervention and drugs
- Helps your partner to play a role during labor
- Lowers the chance of postnatal depression (6)
Next, we answer a few frequent queries from our readers.
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[ Read: How To Speed Up Labor ]
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How soon can I start practicing the breathing techniques?
You can start practicing breathing techniques from the early stages of pregnancy itself. It is believed that those who practice breathing exercises or techniques throughout their pregnancy are more in control of their bodies, and have an easy labor. Breathing not only offers sufficient oxygen for baby’s healthy development but also gives energy for the mother. Practicing breathing exercises often, from the early stages of pregnancy, will make it easy for you to use them during labor.
2. What are the alternative relaxation techniques to relieve labor pains?
The alternative relaxation techniques involve all the senses to relieve labor pains (7).
- Sight (seeing a relaxing environment offers feelings of safety, warmth, and tranquility)
- Listening (music can help you relax through contractions)
- Smell (aromatherapy keeps the air fresh and creates a relaxing atmosphere)
- Taste (having nutritious snacks boosts energy and relieves fatigue and anxiety)
- Touch (massage, hydrotherapy, acupressure, and reflexology relax tensed muscles)
3. How to overcome dry mouth during labor?
To overcome dry mouth (8):
- Have small sips of fluids, or suck on ice chips, sour lollipop or fruit juice bars to moisten your mouth.
- Touch the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth behind the teeth as you inhale. It dampens the air you take in.
- Cover your nose and mouth, with your fingers spread wide, so that it creates moisture as you breathe in.
- Rinse your mouth or brush your teeth using mouthwash or cold water repeatedly.
[ Read: When & How To Push During Delivery? ]
4. What happens if I have an epidural?
If you had an epidural, you have to wait for an hour from the time you are completely dilated before you begin to push. Do not push without feeling any urge unless your doctor asks you to. Understand that you have to put the same effort you will need for pushing a big poo. Count up to five while pushing with all of your strength. Take a few breaths and again continue pushing.
Breathing and relaxation techniques help in managing your labor pain. Your healthcare provider will help you learn, practice and refine them if needed. You can also enroll in yoga classes to learn about breathing exercises during different stages of labor.
Are you practicing breathing techniques for labor? Tell us about it in the comment section below.
2. Pregnancy and birth: Managing pain during childbirth; IQWiG
3. By Susan Scott Ricci, Terri Kyle, Maternity and Pediatric Nursing, p. 403
4. Elaine Stillerman, Prenatal Massage Book: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor, and Postpartum, p.295
5. C A Varner; Comparison of the Bradley Method and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Education Classes; J Perinat Educ. (2015)
6. W L Van Der Westhuizen; Women’s Experiences Of Hypnotherapy As Psychological Support For High-Risk Pregnancy; University Of South Africa (2013)
7. Edited by Jennifer A. Elliott, Howard S. Smith, Handbook of Acute Pain Management, p. 167-168
8. Penny Simkin, Janet Whalley, Ann Keppler, Janelle Durham, April Bolding, Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn The Complete Guide, p. 229