Breathing deeply is so important in labour. It will keep you calm and collected, able to listen to your instinct and speak your mind. It will give you a vital sense of control. It can aid in pain management. It gives you energy which is so important during childbirth. It also supplies your baby with plenty of essential oxygen, keeping them alert and healthy. Counting your breath can also help you to time contractions.
Pain makes us naturally tense up, our breathing becomes shallow and our muscles tighten. At the first sign of labour you need to consciously loosen your shoulders, keep your spine lengthened and raise the crown of your head to the sky. You may feel comfortable walking around, you may prefer to sit. However, you position yourself, establishing a deep breathing routine is essential. Exhale fully through your mouth, using a long controlled measured breath. Count the seconds it takes and then match them as you inhale, keep that rhythm going for the entire first stage. Every time you breathe out let your muscles soften and relax, this will help your cervix and vagina to stay soft and pliant too. Once you have established a firm counted breath you may like to add some words, especially if the pain is becoming more intense. It could be a short mantra such as “I can do this” or “This too shall pass” (using two words for the inhale and two for the exhale or you could use one word such as relax. Breathing in for ‘re’ and out for ‘lax’). If you like the sound of a mantra, then it might be worth finding one before you go into labour. Having these little devices to support you all ready and waiting can be really empowering.
If you are finding that your breathing is becoming shallow again, focus on the out breath as the inhalation will follow naturally. It is worth going through some breathing techniques with your birth partner during the pregnancy. They can keep you on track. Being told what to do can take away the feeling of empowerment, so rather than telling you to breathe they could gently place their hands on your shoulders to relax them, look you in the eye and breath with you. Perhaps even saying the words or counting the breaths for you.
Sometimes using sound can be helpful too. Breathe in through your nose as fully as possible and breathe out through your mouth making a noise as you do so. It may be an ooohh sound or an aaahhh. Sometimes the use of sound can help us to release the pain and deal with it more effectively. This is a useful technique once labour has become established and is progressing well.
You may find that the breathing gives you a dry mouth so it is a good idea for your birth partner to offer you water regularly. Sometimes sipping water through a straw is helpful so be sure to pack some straws and plenty of bottles of water in your hospital bag. Again, you may not want to be asked if you would like some water every few minutes so it may be easier for them to simply offer it to you without words or have it on hand so you can point to it if you want it. Being well-hydrated will also help with breastfeeding, so try to drink as much water as possible during the labour.
Meditation and mindfulness can be incredibly powerful. Entering a state of mindfulness can give you the power you need to believe in yourself. If your contractions are intense and close together, you may find it difficult to settle into this place. You might prefer to use a pair of words that can keep you positive and focused. You could inhale strength and exhale fear or pain. Come up with your own couplet that feels empowering and relevant.
Taken from ‘The Natural Baby: A gentle guide to conception, pregnancy, birth & beyond’ by Holly Daffurn and Samantha Quinn.
Freelance writer, author and poet