Most most women link breathing exercises to pain management during labor. But, while breathing during labor does help to combat contraction pain, it also provides increased oxygen levels to the baby that is in state of stress as well. Pushing during labor often involves holding breaths and using that force to move the baby through the birth canal. However, while holding her breath, the women is unable to provide new oxygen to the baby. Thus, the importance of breathing exercises reaches far beyond pain management.

Focus on the breath

Focusing is a key element to breathing exercises. With eyes closed, moms can think of the word RELAX and focus on the two syllables that make up the word (Re-lax) to control breathing. Picture the first syllable “RE” while taking in a breath. The exhale should involve extending the second syllable gently and slowly – “LAAAAAAX”. Continue to breath in and out with control and never lose sight of the word RELAX. During the “LAAAAAAX” exhale, try to let all stress and tension be released in the body.

Breathing Exercises for Dad (or Other Birthing Partner)

The birthing partner will come in very handy when the woman giving birth is tired and labor has wasted all her control and focus. In order to support the women, the birthing partner will also need to practice breathing exercises. Birthing partners need to keep eye contact with the woman and talk her through each breath. Gentle, soft instructions and words of support will be very helpful. 

New Breathing Tips for Labor

Doctors once supported the "breath, hold and have one long push" method during each contraction, but new research reveals this single, long push may increase chances of tearing and decreasing oxygen tothe baby. Instead, women in labor are now told to push as many times as they feel necessary during each contraction. This could involve several small pushes with breaths in between.

When told NOT Push

If the attending physician or caregiver tells the woman giving birth not to push when she feels the strong urge to push, breathing exercises can help her through the struggle. In order to push the baby through the birthing canal, the cervix needs to be fully dilated. If not dilated to 10 cm and fully effaced, the woman will need to breathe through her contraction. Panting and reciting the words, “I must not push” may be helpful.