Advice on breathing exercises and relaxation techniques you can practice throughout your pregnancy to help with pain relief in labour
There are now so many options for pain relief in labour that traditional breathing exercises can seem unnecessary. However, there are actually many benefits of practicing breathing techniques throughout your pregnancy - not least that they'll help you cope with the pain when b-day arrives.
Different breathing exercises can be useful during the different stages of labour to provide a focus and enable you to feel in control of the situation and, in the second stage of labour certain breathing techniques can actually help make your contractions more productive. However, the main benefit of practicing and employing labour breathing techniques is that you will help to ensure that your baby continues to receive a sufficient supply of nourishing oxygen through the birth and that you have a sufficient supply of oxygen to prevent you from becoming fatigued.
Early labour breathing
During the initial stage of labour you should focus on slowly inhaling and exhaling throughout your contraction - it can help to count while you are doing this.
As your labour progresses and contractions become more intense you can start to use a different breathing technique to help you cope with the pain and ensure that you and your baby get enough oxygen.
Active stage breathing
As each contraction starts you should continue to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you were doing during the earlier phase. As the intensity increases you can start to take shallower, quicker breaths. As the contraction peaks it may help to breath in and out through your mouth as if you are panting - you could try taking a deeper inhalation and exhalation every few breaths. When the intensity of the contraction begins to lessen you should try and resume even installations in through your nose and out through your mouth.
There will probably come a time during labour when you feel the urge to push but you are not yet fully dilated - to try and resist this urge it can help to pant or blow throughout the contraction whilst kneeling on all fours and tilting your pelvis towards the ceiling.
Second stage breathing
Once your cervix is fully dilated and you have been told to start pushing through contractions you can use the following breathing exercise to help make your contractions more effective.
As the urge to push comes and goes throughout a contraction you should try and avoid holding your breath. Instead you should take a big breath in and slowly release your breath as you push - it can help to moan or grunt and you should focus on pushing your baby down and out while you do this. After you have fully exhaled take a couple of shallower breaths and then another deep inhalation as the urge to push begins again - continue breathing in this way until the contraction subsides.
By taking every opportunity to practice breathing exercises throughout your pregnancy you will find that they start to become automatic and will be all the more beneficial when your baby decides to arrive. Whenever possible you should practice breathing exercises with your birthing partner so that they feel confident taking control of the situation and helping you to focus your breath during labour contractions. To do this you should face your birthing partner, focus on their eyes or mouth and hold their hands as you go through the breathing exercises together.
You should try and keep your breathing at an even pace with an in breath being about the same length as an out breath. It can help to breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and take a deep breath at the start and end of every contraction - this will help you to relax a little.
As you practice breathing exercises you will start to find out which type of breath feels most comfortable for you - some like to take deep breaths that fill their whole lungs while others find shallower 'chest breathing' more comfortable. Throughout labour you should focus on relaxing as you breath - although this is something that is easier said that done, by consciously trying to relax your muscles you will be focusing less on the discomfort you are experiencing.
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