There is a lot of conflicting advice and often confusion out there about breathing in labour. And many people will refuse to believe that something as simple as breathing can have such a powerful effect on your labour. But I know from personal experience the amazing effect using the breath had on my labours. I got through both my births using just acupressure and breathing techniques. I found they really helped keep me calm and focused and relieved pain. And since I became a positive birth coach I have learned so much about the importance of the breath in labour.
During your labour breathing techniques involving slow controlled breaths will
calm down your nervous system. When you breath out for longer than you breath in, it sends a signal to your nervous system to stand down. It's a signal to your body that there is nothing to be afraid of and there is no need to be in "fight or flight" mode. Therefore you body stops producing adrenaline. Adrenaline is the hormone you don't want in labour as it slows down oxytocin production and if oxytocin slows down then labour slows down or even stops. In addition oxytocin is a pain killing hormone, so the more oxytocin is flowing the less pain you feel. So for optimum production of good labour hormones, an efficient and less painful labour, then you need to feel calm and breathing techniques will help.
bring vital oxygen to your uterus which is a big muscle trying to do a big job of birthing your baby. Lack of oxygen, for example when holding your breath to push (see below), can lead to slow or inefficient contractions. You wouldn't try to run a marathon while holding your breath. You know your leg muscles would need oxygen in order to run. It's the same for your uterus during labour.
bring vital oxygen to your baby. Your baby is relying on you to supply them with oxygen through the umbilical cord. Therefore it's vital that you have controlled breathing to oxygenate your blood as this will travel though to your baby's blood.
split your focus away from any pain sensations you may be feeling. Research shows we feel less pain when we focus on something else. Your brain literally can't pay as much attention to it and so the feeling is less intense. Bringing your attention to the breath or counting the breath can be a really great way to do this. The breathing techniques I teach in my workshops and in my prerecorded Breathing Techniques for Labour Course are designed to help split your focus and therefore help you manage your surges. Click on button below for more information.
Help prevent tearing. Despite what you may have seen on TV or indeed experienced in your previous births, holding your breath while you push is NOT a good idea. This is known as coached pushing. You are told to hold your breath, chin to chest and push, push, push into your bottom. It can slow labour down and increase you risk of tearing, forceps and cesarean birth. Breathing while in the 2nd (pushing) stage of labour has been shown to DECREASE your risk of tearing.
So how do you breathe in labour?
There can be a lot of advice out there on the best breath for labour. My advice is firstly to find a breath that works for you. As long as you can do it in a slow and controlled way that's the most important thing. There is no point learning a breathing technique, for example, that requires you to breath in and out through your nose if you find that very uncomfortable. If you find it hard to do now then you definitely will struggle to do it in labour. So try a few different types and find what works best for you. This is why I teach a number of different techniques in my courses. You can find out more on my breathing course below.
Breathing in your second pushing stage can be different than your first stage. Slow and controlled is again best but you need to also make sure you jaw is relaxed. There is a direct connection between your jaw and perineum therefore any tightness in the jaw may increase your chances of tearing. I teach my clients to breath down in this part of labour using the Moo Breath or J breath. It can be a really great breath for focus while also allowing mum to vocalise. Making noises and vocalising during pushing is very common and should be encouraged as long as the vocal energy is moving down and not up.
Whatever breaths you learn and choose it's important to practice them while you are pregnant so that when you go into labour they easy to remember and come naturally to you. Ideally do some practice with you birth partner so they are familiar with them and can remind you how to do them on the day. This can be especially important if you have wobble and start that shallow, top of your lungs breathing which often happens when we you anxious or scared. Having a birth partner that can step in and breath with you for a few breaths can be the best thing to help bring you back to a place of calm.
And no matter what happens , just breathe x.