The Importance of Breathing in Labour
Breathing during labour might sound like the most natural thing in the world – after all – we do it all day every day. But there are some real benefits to learning specific breathing techniques that will help you during all stages of your labour, right up to bringing your baby into the world.
A great deal has been made over the ‘right’ way to breathe when you are in labour. Ever since Lamaze came up with his childbirth breathing techniques in the 1960s, childbirth educators have been refining how you might best manage your breathing through all the stages of labour right up to delivery. Breathing is important during labour. But it’s worthwhile understanding why it’s important, what benefits it can bring, and how you can make it work for you.
Why Breathing is Important
The breathing techniques developed by Dr Lamaze in the 1960s were broadly aimed at three outcomes:
- Reducing fear of the unknown by providing information on what to expect
- Learning how to relax and become aware of your body, thereby reducing pain
- Distracting the mind from the discomfort by concentrating on conscious or deliberate breathing
The early breathing techniques were very prescriptive and specific. Over the years these techniques have given way to a much more individualised approach to breathing during childbirth, but the reasons behind managing your breathing remain the same.
While there are definitely some types of breathing more suited to particular stages of labour, the most important thing is breathing in a conscious and deliberate pattern that works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. This is why it’s important during pregnancy to prepare yourself with a range of different techniques that you can use when you need to.
Different Breathing Techniques
During the course of labour, you will have the need for a range of different breathing techniques, depending on whether you are in the very early stages and wanting to relax and conserve energy, the transition phase where managing discomfort is paramount, or the delivery phase, where guiding baby gently into the world is your focus.
Soft Sleep Breaths – similar to the slow gentle breaths you take just before you fall asleep, this technique is used between contractions to conserve energy, focus and relax.
Blissful Belly Breaths – aimed at managing discomfort during contractions
Cleansing Calming Breaths – during probably the most uncomfortable phase of labour – transition – these breaths are used between contractions to maintain focus and calm.
Gentle Birthing Breaths – these are the breaths you use during the second stage of labour, when you are delivering baby. Rather than straining and pushing this breathing technique will help you bear down in a relaxed way. There are a number of benefits to both you and baby in using this technique. Baby has a much gentler birth, your tissues (especially the perineum) have a chance to stretch slowly, resulting in fewer stitches, and you are less likely to suffer afterwards with haemorrhoids.
Practice makes Perfect
One of the most important keys to being able to manage your breathing during childbirth is practice. In the weeks leading up to the birth, practice the different techniques that feel most natural to you, so that when the time comes they are second nature. It’s a great idea if your birth partner practices with you so that they can support you and help you focus during labour.
Additional Comfort Measures
Most of the studies that have been conducted around the benefits of deliberate breathing during labour have incorporated other complementary medicine techniques such as acupressure, meditation and massage. When combined, there is clear evidence these techniques improve the experience of labour, reduce discomfort and reduce the incidence of medical interventions like epidurals and stitches.
Incorporating these additional comfort measures into your birthing plan and preparation will set you up as best as possible for a positive birth experience.
Where do I Learn to Breathe?
Most childbirth classes will offer include training in how to master breathing during labour. They may use the techniques I outlined earlier, or the might take a slightly different approach. Whatever approach you decide to take is entirely up to you – there is no right or wrong.
A doula can help you understand a range of breathing techniques, will work with you to determine your preferred approach, and help you and your birth partner master the techniques before labour.
If you would like to understand the different breathing techniques and when to use them, or you would just like to chat about the type of birth you envision for yourself and your baby, I would love to chat with you. Call me on 0422 258 771 or contact me below: