When you are tense and frightened, your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Muscles around shoulders and neck become tight and rigid. If moved to a state of panic, over breathing, sucking air rapidly into your lungs and breathing out in short sharp gasps will occur automatically. The result of this will be light headedness and a feeling of being out of control. Pins and needles may be felt in fingers and your mouth may feel numb.
All these reactions are commonly associated to very stressful or frightening situations. Although these feelings are normal, if continued for a long period of time, exhaustion will result.
In labour your aim is to conserve as much energy as possible.
You will also want to give your baby plenty of oxygen to cope with the stress of being born. Panic breathing reduces oxygen needed for yourself and baby.
Breathing patterns for labour
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.
Notice how rhythmical it is. As you breathe in be aware of the short pause before you breathe out. The breath that you take in and out are the same in length and depth. Notice how you pause slightly before your lungs take in the next breath.
In labour breathing needs to be kept rhythmical. Try to keep the intake and exhale of air the same in regard to length and depth. Occasionally the exhale of air may be longer.
Breathing may inevitably become shallower when you are going through strong contractions. Try to ensure that your breathing does not start to get faster and faster during these contractions as this may well result in panic breathing.
Simple breathing techniques
Think of the word RELAX. Using this words two syllables try this exercise.
As you breathe in think “ RE ” and on breathing out consider the word “ LAX”. Try to avoid letting your mind wander in thinking of something else. Repeat the word RE…LAX in tune with your breathing.
On breathing out, try to let go of any tensions within and focus on the muscles which you know always become tense when in a stressed state.
Consider “ ..LAAAAAX ”whenever you breathe out.
As you breathe in, count slowly up to three or four ( or whatever number seems comfortable for you). On breathing out, count again. You may find it more comfortable to breathe in to a count of three, and out to a count of four.
The Ooh and Aah!
Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. Keep your mouth soft as you sigh the breath out. It can be very helpful to sound the exhale of air with either an Oooooh or Aaaaaah.
If allowed, in between contractions take sips of water to prevent your mouth becoming too dry.
Support with breathing
Painful contractions and tiredness, can take your mind off being able to breathe rhythmically and to relax whilst breathing out during labour.
A birth companion can provide help in keeping breathing steady by breathing with you.
Eye contact and the placing of the birth companions hand gently on your shoulders or holding your hands, will help focus your attention through the encouragement of breathing in through the nose and blowing out gently upon your face.
It is advised to practise this beforehand, as this may feel strange at first. However, co - breathing is a great source of strength in labour when you may feel tired and considering giving up.
Breathing and pushing
During the second stage of labour, baby will be pushed out into the world!
Taking a deep breath when you feel your contraction starting followed on to breathing or blowing slowly out as you bear down has been found to aid this second stage of labour. In so doing, a healthy breathing pattern and effective pushing will result.
If an epidural has been administered, on confirmation of your midwife advising on a contraction beginning, take a deep breath, and as you blow out, let your mind travel down to your baby’s head between your legs and push.
Try to avoid holding your breath and pushing as long as possible. In so doing, a lack of oxygen for yourself and baby will occur as well as exhaustion. Try to maintain a controlled, rhythmic breathing pattern.
Breathing and not pushing
In some cases, it has been found that a women may have the urge to push before the cervix if fully dilated. In this case, your midwife will ask you not to push so to give your cervix more time to open. This can be extremely difficult!
With confirmation of midwife, kneel on all fours with your bottom in the air and your cheek resting on the ground. This will aid greatly in this situation.
When a contraction arrives, give four short pants, then a quick in breath, followed by four more short pants and so on. Repeating the phase, “ I must not push ” in your head, will also help. Try to breath normally between contractions.