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Breathing Your Way
Through Labor Contractions
Current Evidence Based Practices for women in labor suggest the best breathing method is slow and spontaneous – meaning mom knows how to breathe during labor.
Below are the “traditional” breathing methods that have been taught since the 1950’s and are now outdated. Yet they are still taught in many childbirth classes – especially in hospitals.They have been associated with hyperventilation which compromises oxygenation to mother and baby.
Practice breathing for labor daily. Learn the traditional as well as the slow and deep method because if you birth in a hospital these breathing techniques are still taught and used, and you’ll know them if you are directed my a nurse to use them.
When practicing, and when the time comes, use the breathing style that works BEST for you.
Now, pretend your contractions are 20 to 90 seconds long. Vary the times. Practice one “contraction” at a timelength per exercise. In real life, when you start having real contractions, you will do the breathing exercise you choose until the contraction is over – from start to finish. More info to come about contractions.
For now, know your contractions come one at a time. There is ALWAYS a break in between. They can be a short as 20 seconds or as long as 90 seconds. You will learn about timing them below, first things first.
You can also these breathing methods with with “Braxton-Hicks” (practice contractions) you are experiencing them. You can also use them when feeling ANY physical discomfort, or anxiety, or just plain stressed! Please Keep the following in mind. Your breathing should always be:
- relaxed, done slowly, easy
- comfortable, not forced
Nose and/or mouth breathing is used – comfortable and natural
oxygen intake is not compromised (NO hyperventilating- no rapid shallow OR rapid deep breathing) Anxiety can also cause you to hyperventilate. so keep it slow.
Things to keep in mind
- You always time a contraction from beginning to the end to get the duration – how long it lasts.
- Frequency, or how often they come, contractions are timed from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next one. B to B.
- When the each contraction begins and ends, take a nice deep breath as if to say hello to it and goodbye. This can also be a CUE to your partner when one is starting and when its ending. So, partner, pay attention!
Breathwork #1 -Slow/natural Breathing
Description – Start with ONE deep, slow inhale. Breath, in through the nose, and exhale through the mouth, just let it go.
- Slowly breathe in through the nose or mouth, if you are more comfortable with mouth breathing, or have a stuffy nose, etc., that’s fine.
- Fill your lungs comfortably and slowly exhale through your mouth. This averages out to 2 breaths per 15 seconds. Practice this for the duration of your “pretend “contraction ” time.
- When the “contraction” time is up, end the exercise with another, slow, deep breath – like you did in the beginning. This is sometimes called a “signal” or “cleansing” breath to let your partner know a contraction is beginning and/or ending. Breathe in through the nose or mouth and exhale slowly through the mouth. Just let it go. Nice and easy. Good.
- You are consciously, focusing on slowing your breathing down. It should feel comfortable, natural, easy, it’s rhythmic, and soft.
- Your chest and/or shoulders should not rise up and down dramatically.
- The sound of breathing should barely be heard. It’s your own natural breating, but slowed down. Similar to when you start to fall asleep at night.
- When breathing in slowly, you can mentally count to 4, or 3, or 5 – whatever will help to keep your pace slow. Do what FEELS comfortable, to help you stay focused, and to ensure that you are slowing your breathing down to allow for good oxygenation to you and baby.
- Your posture should be relaxed, shoulders down, jaw loose..no clenched teeth, fists, and so on.
- Close your eyes to help concentrate, or stare at something (focal point).
- ADD DAYDREAMING (visualization, etc.) to make it even MORE relaxing and effective.
Breathing # 1, Slow breathing
Breathwork #2 – “Blow”/”Puff”/ “Blowing out the Candle”
Description – Again, start with ONE single, deep, slow breath in through the nose and exhale slowly through the mouth. Just let it go. This is the “signal” breath. Now your breathing is more animated. However, it is still somewhat slow and shallow.
- You sound and look as though you are “blowing out a candle” with a firm “puff”, “poof”, or “blow” sound comes from pursed lips.
- Now, imagine you are blowing out a stubborn flame on a candle – “poof”, “puff” or “blow” – ( soft inhale in through nose or mouth ) then “puff” or “blow” (soft inhale) then “puff”. Focus on the exhale.
- Continue one “candle” blow at a time. Keep doing this throughout the “contraction” until it ends. Then take a deep, slow inhale through the nose/mouth, and release through the mouth. Just let it go.
- Has the potential to cause hyperventilation
- If you like this one the best, that’s fine! Do that! Use what works best at the moment.
- The chest may rise up and down a bit more, but breaths should remain shallow, easy, relaxed, comfortable, and WELL PACED. Shoulders should not rise up and down dramatically.
- Place a letter sized piece of paper 4-6 inches away from your face, now do the breathing technique. If doing it correctly, the paper will move when you blow on it, just like blowing out a candle!
- Has the potential to cause hyperventilation
Breathing #2, “Candle”
Breathwork #3 – “Pattern”, or the infamous “hee, hee, blow”
Description – Again, begin with ONE deep, slow, “Signal” breath in through the nose, and exhale slowly through the mouth. Just let it go. Now, you will shift to a “patterned” breathing method.
- add sound and random patterns. Right now, just say the word, HE. Now, “hee, hee, hoo”. Now, breathe out in this pattern, your breaths will sound like you are saying – hee, hee, hoo. Should be short puffs and blows.
- Hee then soft inhale
- Hee then soft inhale
- Blow (quick blow like the candle breath)
- then soft inhale
Use this pattern until you are comfortable with it. Do this during your practice “contractions”. When the contraction time is up, end the exercise with a deep, slow, “Signal” breath in through the nose and release slowly out through the mouth. Just let it go.
- If you prefer this one over the rest, that’s fine! Use what works at the moment.
- You can change the sound to what ever feels comfortable – “hee, hee” or “sh, sh”. “choo, choo”, etc. Sound releases tension. Use any of the one syllable vowel sounds.
- Make the pattern random! “k,k,k,” “blow”, “k,k” “blow”, “k,k,k,k” “blow”, etc. (1 or 2 or 3 sounds to 1blow, or 4 sounds to 1 blow. There’s usually 1 “blow” in between sounds.
- Keep focused on your partner! Your partner can help you stay focused by counting aloud with the breathing – adding sound and numbers. Your partner will guide you with the patterned breathing.
- This technique is often used later in labor, during active or transition, near delivery of the baby. But, you can use it anytime you want!
- Don’t speed up the pace!. Always err on the side of slow, keep it rhythmic, and focused!
- Small, gentle, whisps of air are inhaled in between the sounds and and blows.
- Gentle inhale after a blow
Breathing #3, “Hee, hee, blow’s”
No matter how uncomfortable she is STAY FOCUSED ON BREATHING.
And if you learned deep abdominal breathing in a yoga class, you can use that too! Deep abdominal breathing for labor is actually the best breathing method because it’s naturally slow, better oxygen for you and baby, and conserves energy.
What ever works as long as your breathing is focused and in control.
Always begin and end a breathing technique with ONE deep, slow breath in through the nose or mouth, and release through the mouth. Just let it go. This is often called a”cleansing” or :signal” breath, because it tells your partner when a contraction has started or ended. I like to think of it as saying “hello” and “goodbye” to a contraction!
When to use these Styles of breathing techniques will be discussed in the Labor + Birth section. On we go to the importance of movement during labor.
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