Many women use breathing exercise techniques to help manage the pain when giving birth. Breathing exercises are not just for labor; they can help you throughout your pregnancy by giving you a time to regroup, get in touch with your feelings and to focus on your developing baby. And, after you have the baby, the breathing exercises you learned while pregnant will come in handy when you will invariably need to relax.
Many women take up yoga while they are pregnant for both exercise and breath control. Yoga teaches you how to focus, concentrate, build stamina and breathe rhythmically — all useful skills for labor and delivery. The yoga breathing technique, ujjayi, teaches you to inhale through your nose until your lungs are full, and then exhale completely. Ujjayi breathing teaches you how to stay calm and relax, which helps your body produce oxytocin, the hormone that makes labor progress.
Shortness of Breath
Some women get short of breath during pregnancy because of an increase in progesterone or because the baby, especially in the third trimester, is putting pressure on the diaphragm. This is usually normal, but check with your doctor if you are having difficulty breathing, especially if the difficulty is sudden and severe, to rule out anything more serious. If your breathing difficulty is due to your baby putting pressure on you, sit up straight rather than slouching to give your lungs as much room as possible. Sleep propped up, and rest during the day when you feel overly tired.
Lamaze classes teach you and your partner how to get the most out of your breathing when in labor by teaching conscious breathing and showing you how to avoid tensing up or holding your breath. When you focus on your breathing — are conscious of it — labor pain is not the focus. Conscious breathing also ensures that you and your baby are getting enough oxygen. Any type of breathing that helps you is what you should do. Sometimes slow, deep breathing helps you feel more relaxed and helps you get through the contractions. When the contractions get more intense, the slow breathing may not do the trick. Try a panting style, saying “hee-hee” with each exhale.
Other Breathing Methods
The Alexander technique focuses on the mother walking around and moving during labor, which releases muscular tension and increases breathing capacity. Modifying your movements can help your breathing.
The Bradley method emphasizes exercise and proper nutrition throughout your pregnancy. This method also teaches relaxation techniques for pain management, includes your partner as your coach, discourages pain medication and teaches you how to breastfeed.
Find a Class
You can find a birthing class that teaches breathing techniques by asking your doctor or your friends. Most hospitals either offer classes or can provide you with a list of places that do. You can find a Lamaze class through Lamaze International, an Alexander teacher through the American Society for the Alexander Technique or a Bradley instructor through the Bradley Method website.