Best Breathing Techniques for Labor

When labor kicks in, breathing patterns can be a natural way to manage the pain. Find out what techniques may be best for you.
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By Lisa Gould Rubin, Childbirth Educator & Doula
Updated May 4, 2017
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Popular birthing methods like Lamaze or The Bradley Method have their own breathing techniques, but most practitioners don’t actually preach a strict breathing pattern (a la the “hee hee, hoo hoo, ha ha” school of thought). That’s because by the time labor pains start, breathing techniques a mom-to-be learns in childbirth class tend to go out the window.

Instead, many childbirth experts recommend tuning in to your own natural breathing rhythms. That might be slow, deep breaths that come all the way from your diaphragm, or faster, shallow breathing, like a dog gently panting—whatever feels right to you is most likely, well, right for you.

So how can you prep for labor breathing? Begin by tuning into how you breathe when you’re stressed—some people inhale deeply through their nose, and others do an even in-out rhythm through their mouth. Whatever it is, practice it and remind yourself to return to that natural breathing pattern while you’re in labor.

Then, once contractions start, try this: At the beginning of each contraction, some practitioners recommend taking a “cleansing” breath, similar to the kind many yoga instructors use at the start of a class. The cleansing breath can help you release tension and relax more deeply.

As labor progresses, try finding your own rhythmic breathing, much like a swimmer or runner does when she’s in her workout groove. If this doesn’t work (or stops working), focus on the sound you make when you’re in pain. For some women, it’s a low hum; for others, it’s a robust “aah.” You can then turn this natural exclamation into a rhythmic pattern that can help you cope with labor pains.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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