Breathing Techniques for Childbirth

Breathing techniques during childbirth vary according to the rhythm of the contractions and the timing. In this article, we'll detail what they are and how they help.
Breathing Techniques for Childbirth

Last update: 22 December, 2020

Breathing techniques during childbirth are much talked about these days. They’ve become one of the essential pillars when preparing for the moment you’re going to welcome your little one into the world.

Breathing techniques are known to help the mother cope with childbirth. They activate the circulatory system and help maintain muscle strength. They even relieve the pain, which, as we know, is very intense.

On the other hand, these techniques also improve the baby’s oxygenation. It involves taking deep breaths at a constant rate. In this article, we explain what these techniques are so that you’re also prepared when the time comes to give birth.

How do breathing techniques help in childbirth?

A pregnant woman doing breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises have interesting effects on those women who go into labor. They provide overall calmness and help relieve pain.

Maintaining deep, rhythmic breathing during labor has many benefits. In fact, this is supported by scientific evidence. For example, a study published in the Journal of Integrative Medicine concludes the following:

Deep inhalation and exhalation breathing exercises in pregnant women are effective in reducing the perception of labor pain and shortening the duration of the second stage of labor.

They’re also related to reducing the number of assisted births. There’s a simple explanation for this: because of all the tension and pain, the mom-to-be’s breathing tends to become rapid and shallow. This reduces the amount of oxygen the woman inhales and gives to the baby. In fact, it also causes the muscles to work less hard.

Knowing breathing techniques that help you cope with this moment of fear and tension allows deeper breathing. By getting the right amount of oxygen, you will reduce the risk of complications for your baby.

What are the breathing techniques?

The mainstay of these techniques is to breathe in through the nose at a constant rate. You must do this in a soothing way. Then, you must expel the air through the mouth without pressing your lips. It’s very important not to hold your breath during labor.

You have to consider that the breathing techniques change as the birth progresses. For this reason, we’ll explain how this sequence works.

Start of labor

This is when the contractions start, but they’re still quite far apart and not as fast. Slow or abdominal breathing is usually used in this phase.

  • This technique consists of gently inhaling air through the nose while the abdomen inflates.
  • Then, try to expel the air, more slowly than the inhalation, through the mouth. Try to breathe out three times more than you breathed in.
  • Between one breath and the other, take a short break. This breathing technique helps control the rhythm of the contractions and relieve the pain.

Contractions progress

A woman having contractions.
When contractions progress, breathing exercises must change. In this case, breathing at chest level.

As the contractions increase, the best technique is light accelerated breathing. In this phase, it’s completely normal for the breathing to be accelerated.

  • This technique is based on inhaling more briefly. However, you must keep doing it the same way: breathe air through the nose and expel it through the mouth.
  • You have to try to breathe in a little air when the contraction begins. Then, try to exhale when the contraction ends. You can do this in several expulsions or in one.

During this phase, you usually breathe in at chest level because you need to breathe in faster to maintain your baby’s oxygen levels (and your own!).

The final moment

The most common technique for when it’s time to give birth to the baby is called expulsion breathing.

  • It consists of inhaling a large amount of air until you have the sensation of having filled your lungs.
  • When the need to push is very strong, you should tilt your chin towards your chest. When you push, let the air out little by little. Each time this happens, repeat the technique.
  • Ideally, you should breathe naturally between efforts to recover.

In conclusion

Breathing techniques for labor are very useful, as they help relieve pain and cope with contractions with strength and energy. It’s normal to be afraid that the time will come and you’ll be afraid of forgetting these preparations for childbirth.

However, the preparation courses and midwives make it possible for these techniques to be almost intuitive during labor. In any case, try to practice these techniques before the time comes.

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  • Lothian, J. A. (2011). Lamaze Breathing. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 20(2), 118–120. https://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.20.2.118
  • Yuksel, H., Cayir, Y., Kosan, Z., & Tastan, K. (2017). Effectiveness of breathing exercises during the second stage of labor on labor pain and duration: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 15(6), 456–461. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60368-6
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