How to breathe during labour

One of the most beneficial techniques to learn for your upcoming labour is breathing. Breathing is going to help you relax and work through your contractions while helping you to stay calm, focused and conserving your energy.

Breathing will also allow you to work with your body providing your birthing muscles and your baby with oxygen during labour.

You'll also be activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which will slow your heart rate down, lower your blood pressure and give you an overall feeling of relaxation and calmness.

If during labour you breath through your mouth in short, rapid spurts, or your breathing becomes shallow and rapid, your body will flood with the stress hormone adrenaline activating the fight or flight response and making you feel scared and out of control. Make sure that you don't hold your breath at any point during labour.

Practice your breathing during pregnancy. From around 32 weeks start to set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to focus on relaxing and breathing. The more you practice this, the more automatic it becomes so that when you go into labour, using your breathing techniques to relax into your contractions will come naturally to you.

A good time to practice your breathing and relaxation is when you go to bed in the evening or when you wake in the morning. If you use the same piece of relaxation music each time, you will be conditioning yourself to associate this music with your body relaxing and then you can play that music during labour.

During the first stage of labour a contraction can last for up to a minute. Allow your body to be as relaxed as possible, taking in about four to six breaths throughout each contraction. But if that doesn't work for you just breathe in a way or to a count that feels comfortable and natural for you.

During the first stage of labour focus on this type of breathing. When you feel a contraction coming, close your eyes and breathe in through your nose and feel your belly expand with your breath. Then slowly breathe out through your nose imagining and feeling all tension being released from your body. Keep your body as soft, limp, floppy and relaxed as possible. Initially you can try counting in for a count of 5 or 6. So, close your eyes and breathe....in 2,3,4,5, 6 and then out 2,3,4,5,6. Remember to release and let go. If you want to moan or make a sound on the out breath, go with what feels right for you.

In between contractions return to your regular relaxed breathing and when a contraction comes, slow your breathing down as much as possible. As the contractions build and the intensity increases, you may find you begin to breathe in a more shallow way. This is normal however it is very beneficial to keep breathing as deeply and as rhythmically as possible

In the second stage of labour there will be a surge of adrenalin in your body to to give you energy to birth your baby, as well as preparing your baby for the journey through your birth canal. It can be more difficult to stay relaxed and calm due to the high levels of adrenaline and the pressure in your pelvis.

Birthing

There are many different recommendations on how to breathe and push your baby out. It is important in between contractions to take as many deep relaxed breaths as possible. As your baby's is being squeezed through the birth canal there can sometimes be stress put on your baby's system, so breathing deeply can assist your baby. Ideally, your body experiences the great overwhelming urge to push and the uterus does a wonderful job in helping push your baby out. Work with your body's urge to push keeping your mouth and jaw as relaxed as possible. This will ensure that your pelvic floor muscles are relaxed and soft which creates less resistance for your baby.

When you feel the urge to push take a deep breath and slowly push the air out through your mouth. This breathing technique keeps your pelvic floor muscles loose and soft. Take three to four of these breaths during each contraction. This is a wonderful breathing technique because as your baby's head is crowning it can slow everything down and allow the skin on your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) to stretch as much as possible to avoid tearing.

If you don't have a strong urge to push, or you are numb due to having had an epidural, then you may have to do what is known as 'purple pushing'. This involves holding your breath and bearing down to help move your baby down. If you do this style of pushing, make sure you take some deep breaths into your belly in between contractions to ensure your baby is well oxygenated.

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