Sep 2

How does breathing help in labour?

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How your breath can help you enjoy a more comfortable labour
A guest post by Rose Scott, founder & instructor at Birth & More Ltd.

We can all recall a birth scene in TV or film where the birthing woman is told to ‘breathe!’ But many women don’t really understand how their breath is actually one of their most powerful tools in labour. Everyone who is planning to give birth can benefit by understanding how their breathing in labour can benefit them.

You see when you start to take deep and controlled breaths your whole body starts to relax. Try it now – take 3 deep breaths and notice how your heart rate slows and your shoulders drop.

So why is this?

It’s useful to first understand that when we feel anxious or scared our body pumps adrenaline around our system to give us the energy to run away. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and is not what we want to trigger during labour! In this situation your muscles tense up, your heart rate quickens and breathing becomes faster and shallower. In labour, your uterus – a powerful muscle – needs oxygen to work effectively. Shallow, panic breathing reduces the oxygen supply pumping through your body. Your uterus then has to work harder to contract against a cervix that is tightening rather than softening and opening. This physical response to feeling stressed will lead to a more uncomfortable and longer labour – exactly what every birthing woman seeks to avoid!

If a birthing woman starts to feel her stress levels rise during labour she can quickly take control and halt the negative response that often follows just by using her breath.

The Calming Breath

When I teach 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. Your jaw is connected to your pelvis through your spine. 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.

I always encourage ladies in my class to practice this frequently. Even just 1 or 2 minutes daily practice can make a difference. The more familiar you are with it and the stronger the association with this breath, the more powerful the effect will be when you use it in active labour.

Breathing in labour

Using a breathing technique in labour like this really helps a birthing woman feel in control and more confident about her ability to cope.

It also allows the love hormone, Oxytocin to flow. Oxytocin is the hormone that triggers those first contractions and is there throughout to fuel your labour. It peaks again during the final powerful contractions as you deliver your baby.

This breath is really a skill for life. You could use it in pregnancy to help you relax before bed or perhaps if you’re worried about a scan. It can also be beneficial during vaginal exams and later, during smear tests! I’ve even used it to help mums relax and allow her milk to flow when learning to breastfeed as her newborn latches on.

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.

Birth & More

If you found this blog useful, Rose also has a FREE Positive Birth Preparation Tips email series that you can subscribe to via her Instagram: @birthandmoreltd

Birth & More is a Surrey based antenatal business for expectant parents in the Dorking and Reigate area. Birth & More is run by local mum Rose Scott who has been helping parents to feel informed and empowered about their birth journeys since early 2019. Rose wants expectant parents to get the most from their antenatal experience – the comfort of a caring community, the confidence of mindful birth education and the reassurance of personalised long-term support.

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