In & Out: Breathing During Labor
- Breathing is a great way to take your mind of the stress of labor.
- Focusing on the a visual or a rhythm can be helpful when breathing through contractions.
- Breathe the way you feel works best for you and your laboring process!
Just breathe. Someone is bound to say this when you are going through labor, and they aren’t wrong. As your labor and contractions continue, breathing is a great way to keep you calm and comfortable through your labor process. Most of the changes that start happening to your body during labor are automatic and occur without any additional effort. However, they can cause the body to respond similarly to the body’s stress reaction: tightened muscles for fleeing or fighting, shallow breathing, and more awareness of what’s going on around you. Focusing on your breathing can really help in coping with the stress and worries you may have during your labor.
The Stress Response and Labor
During labor, the body gradually releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone that help’s your brain focus on getting through the labor process and to help the body work on getting your baby out! It slows down functions the body doesn’t need at the moment (think: digestion) and sends more fuel to the brain by pushing more glucose into your bloodstream.
When the body feels stress, it is usually able to calm itself down once it realizes the threat or danger is over. However, this stress response can make labor more difficult.
How Breathing Helps
One way to help the body release this tension is by using breathing exercises. Breathing is the best way to tell your body the stress it is feeling is not a threat. This then signals to the body that it is okay to relax and open up to the laboring experience. Mindful breathing is where it all starts. Mindful breathing means breathing on purpose to calm the body down. Let’s look at some breathing exercises you can do during labor to help bring calmness and relaxation to your labor experience.
The first breathing exercise is called visualized breathing.
During labor, start by breathing deeply and slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then, as you breathe, think of a calming picture and focus on that image as you continue to breathe like this one. Another breathing exercise is to breathe deeply while picturing a small light right inside your belly. As you inhale, picture the light growing brighter with a soft, calming light. Then as you exhale, picture the light growing larger and filling your belly with comfort.
Rhythmic breathing is another breathing exercise that can be helpful during labor. Think about making your exhales slightly longer than your inhales and try to find a steady breathing pattern that works for you. One suggestion is to do a count. For example, try inhaling for five breaths, then exhaling for seven. You can also go by your contractions by having light breathing (in and out through mouth) during contractions, then switch to deep breathing (in nose out mouth) when your contraction lessens. Whatever rhythm or count you try, the goal is to find a rhythm of breathing that is consistent, but natural for you.
Listening To Your Body
Finally, as you near the point of delivery, you might feel your breathing start to become shorter and shallower. This is to be expected. Try to focus on maintaining a breathing rhythm: slow, deep breaths at regular intervals.
The important thing to remember is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to breathe during labor. It is more about finding a way to support the work of labor with helpful tools.
Wherever you may be giving birth, you can have a doula, nurse, partner, or family help you breathe and feel more calm. Managing labor pains is another post you may like to read for more ways to manage any pain or stress of labor. Do what feels most comfortable for you in those final moments of pregnancy!