Breathing Techniques for Birth
As your pregnancy progresses, you’re probably reading lots of articles about breathing techniques and hearing many new moms talking about how they couldn’t have gotten through labour without the breathing they learned in their yoga class.
So if you’re going to yoga you’re sorted... but what about those moms who don’t do yoga? Is there a way to learn these secrets to breathing in labour without donning the stretchy pants and chanting Ommmm? Well yes, there certainly is!
I’ll let you into a secret. If you are calm and focused (this needs far more practice than any breathing techniques) in labour, you don’t need any breathing techniques but you probably do need some mental strategies for not freaking out. I know yoga teachers all over the country will think this is heresy, but here’s the logic behind that.
Think of a time recently when you may have done some physical exertion - maybe you started to run up the stairs before you realised you have a 6 month bump to carry too. At what point during that experience did you say to yourself “hey I have to increase my rate of respiration now, increase my cardiac output, then send oxygenated blood to my muscles, and signal to my endocrine system to release endorphins”? Probably never. That’s because your body just adapted to the activity, like it does to every other physical activity you do – including labour.
Here’s the kicker. If you’re stressed in labour, feeling overly anxious you WILL need some tools to help you regain control. That’s where breathing techniques come in.
There’s no secret to how to breathe in labour – in early labour when you’re pottering around the house you’ll just breathe normally. As you enter the active labour phase you’ll find that you need to pause during a surge/contraction and breathe deeply. When we breathe in, it speeds up our heart rate so if you lengthen the out-breath just a tiny bit you’re maximizing your relaxation response. Imagine any tension in your body just melting away with that out-breath. When we’re in pain, we tend to hold our breath and tense the body, so ask your partner to remind you to relax during the contraction and breathe deeply.
Got it? Ok, so now on to the second stage (pushing). How do you breathe while you’re pushing? This is the easiest part of all - do whatever feels good for you but avoid holding your breath and turning purple in the face because that’s what you saw on One Born Every Minute. Some midwives still use this outdated harmful practice and it makes you more likely to tear... more likely to have bladder injuries, and it turns off the oxygen to the muscle that’s doing all the work for you. It also turns off the oxygen to your baby. Concentrate on slow focused breathing and let your body do the work. Your body is doing this part with or without you and hasn’t it done an incredible job so far growing your baby? Trust me – it knows how to finish the job!
So back to yoga – it is a fantastic way to meet other moms, get some gentle exercise and build your confidence for birth and whatever breathing techniques you do learn in class are going to be really helpful during your pregnancy AND parenting experience – not just labour.
If you’re interested in learning more about breathing techniques or other techniques to help you NOT freak out in labour check out the GentleBirth
App coming in September or download our Breathing Techniques for Birth Mp3/CD on GentleBirth.ie