How to breathe during labour, keep it simple.

Breathing in Labour

For most women labour is painful to some degree. If you are tense and frightened, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid and you can start to feel panic. You’ve probably heard that breathing exercises can help and it is something people ask for from antenatal classes.

Effective breathing can help you stay relaxed during contractions and feel in control. It can help you delay and even prevent the need for other forms of pain relief.

As a midwife, I find as soon as I start breathing with a woman she very quickly feels more in control. It can make a huge difference. You may need other pain relief but effective breathing can help you feel in control and relaxed whatever happens.

Keep it simple

Having met women over the years who have learned breathing techniques and then forgotten them in labour, leading them to panic, I now advocate very simple breathing. If you want to use more advanced breathing techniques, have a look at hypnobirthing, where you practise over and over again with a partner so you are less likely to forget.

Most contractions during spontaneous labour last up to 60 seconds. Very occasionally contractions last a little longer than this. If a contraction lasts around 60 seconds, it starts mild and builds up to its strongest, most painful, at 30 seconds and gradually fades over the next 30 seconds and then there is usually a break of at least 2 minutes before the next one starts.

Try this simple breathing:

Breathe in through your nose to the count of three
                and then blow your breath out slowly to the count of four.

Keep your breathing rhythmical. Don’t let the in-breath become longer than the out-breath. You can say the words re-lax to yourself or words of your own. You can choose an image to focus on during the contractions. With one of my births I brought to mind the face of my toddler son and I completely focused on his beautiful image each time I had a contraction. You can think of an image of your own.

Music can help your breathing. You might want to choose some very relaxing music or you can choose music with a rhythm to breathe to. For my first birth, I rifled through our collection of music to find a rather obscure Irish band whose music had just the right rhythm to breathe to and that became my birth music.

How your partner can help

Your partner can help you keep your breathing steady by breathing with you. Try holding hands, facing each other, with eye to eye contact. See what works for you. You can practise during pregnancy.

When your labour starts, give breathing a try

Get ready for each contraction with relaxed shoulders and body and remember you are breathing for up to 60 seconds and then the contraction is gone. Each contraction is bringing you nearer to your baby. I love these words…

                                       ‘Inhale courage into the heart, breathe out fear …….  keep going’.

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