Breathing for efficient labour
Updated: Sep 17, 2020
I’m sure we can all recall a time when we’ve been in shock, under immense stress or worry where our breathing has been affected. Perhaps it quickened and became shallow. Or you may have even held your breath. This wouldn’t have been something you did consciously, it was instinctive - your physical reaction to an emotional state of mind.
So what does this have to do with labour?
Well if a birthing woman became so panicked, anxious or stressed that she too held her breath or started to hyperventilate then her labour would slow or even stop.
This is because her body, especially her uterus, needs oxygen to work efficiently in labour. We all need oxygen for our muscles to work in exercise, and labour is an intense form of physical exercise! Your uterus is a powerful bag of muscles that will become sticky with acid build up if they don’t get a healthy flow of oxygenated blood during labour. In turn the contractions of your uterus in labour will become less effective, more uncomfortable and ultimately stall the progress of your labour.
How can you help your labour progress and feel more comfortable?
By breathing! You don’t have to use a breathing technique but a lot of women benefit from practicing a technique whilst pregnant so that it’s second nature when they need it on their birthing day. Having a technique to focus on gives a birthing woman focus and a sense of control. And learning a centering breath can really be useful in many life situations beyond birth.
Breathing slow and controlled will also allow the love hormone, Oxytocin, to flow. Oxytocin triggers your first contractions and remains present throughout your labour, peaking again during the final powerful contractions as you deliver your baby.
When I teach my antenatal classes, I call this breath the ‘Calming Breath’ but it’s also a breath used in relaxation and yoga so you may have come across it by another name. The key is to inhale through your nose and exhale through a soft and relaxed jaw. Ideally you would exhale for twice as long as you inhale. Keeping your jaw soft as you blow your breath away is a great trick to avoid clenching your jaw which is connected to your pelvis through your spine and we really want your pelvis to be able to relax and release in labour to make room for your baby to descend.
Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds. Fill your tummy, lungs, chest with air.
Exhale through your mouth with a soft jaw for 8 seconds. Blow your breath away, slow and controlled.
When the Calming Breath is combined with powerful hypnobirthing visualisations, positive affirmations and upright positions you really will have the ultimate combination of tools for an efficient and more comfortable birth experience.
I would encourage you to practice this frequently. Even just 1 or 2 minutes daily can make a difference. The more familiar you are with it and the stronger the association with this breath and feeling deeply relaxed, the more powerful the effect will be when you use it in active labour.
As well as helping you relax in labour, you can use it when learning to breastfeed as oxytocin is needed then too to allow your milk to be released. It also comes in handy for any intimate examinations post-birth too. So it really is a skill for life.