Some people will say that you need to learn to breathe for labour and others will say that you find on the day the best way to breathe and learning techniques before hand will only confuse you. Either way, breathing is needed for your body to function, and many people use breathing techniques to help them, for example when playing the trumpet, singing, yoga and swimming.

Controlling Your Breathing

Breathing happens automatically, it would be tiring if you had to keep reminding yourself to breathe. But you do have control over your breathing and can use this to help yourself, for example slowing it down and concentrating on your breathing when you are feeling stressed to help calm yourself.

When someone is hyperventilating telling them to concentrate on their breathing and slow it down will help them to relax and gain more control. You should avoid holding your breath for long periods as this can make you feel faint. This is why you may hear people saying, ‘remember to breathe’.

Janet Balaskas Book New Active Birth

Has a section on breathing in which she talks about how breathing can help you tune in with your body rhythms. Also about the importance of breathing deeply to fully expand our lungs so your body cells can receive the maximum benefit of oxygen, which is needed for their function. She talks about deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.

The Pink Kit

Has information about techniques to help with birth. Visit They talk about breathing effectively to reduce tension by breathing in deeply and slowly through your nose, to fully expand your lungs, then relaxing and letting go of tension with the breath out. They also teach techniques to direct the breath to an area for example to the area of discomfort.

The Auckland Home Birth Association ‘A guide to healthy pregnancy and childbirth’

Talks about keeping your breathing regular (in a pattern). Then in transition, when labour becomes more intense, using shallow rapid breathing if needed.

The New Zealand Pregnancy Book by Sue Pallon

Talks about breathing in through your nose feeling your chest expand, then slowly breathing out through your mouth with lips just slightly open. Taking one long slow breath at the start and end of each contraction as a starting and finishing breath.

Panting is when you breathe in and out quickly and is used to stop people pushing at the end of labour as the babies head is being delivered to give time for the perineum (skin between vagina and anus) to stretch. This can help reduce tears in some cases.

Breathing Visualisation Exercise

You may wish to try this visualisation exercise:

  • Shut your eyes and pretend that you are in labour; your uterus is contracting to push the baby down so it can be birthed.
  • You feel uncomfortable but you know that you are doing this for a reason. You know that after each contraction you will have a rest before the next one.
  • Think about what you are going to do to make yourself comfortable. Changing position, walking, warm bath and massage.
  • You try visualization and positive thinking, you see the contractions as waves on the ocean that build up and go down again. You go with them. You tell yourself how well you are doing and how strong your body is.
  • You try to work with your body, not tensing with the contractions, relaxing your shoulders and slowing your breathing down.
  • Another contraction is starting you take a big breath in through your nose, deeply into your lungs and breathe it out slowly through your mouth. The in breath restores you the out breath relaxes you.
  • You continue to breathe slowly and deeply.
  • You place a hand on your abdomen and breathe again directing the breath towards your abdomen to relax the tension there. Y
  • ou continue to breathe slowly until the contraction is gone, and as it goes take another breath and sigh out and mentally say goodbye to that contraction and “think one less to go”

Remind yourself to:

  • Breathe in through your nose and out mouth
  • Deeply and slowly
  • Drop your shoulders and let go of tension
  • Direct your breath to where there is tension

About the Author

Article by Helen Pulford (Midwife and Childbirth Educator) owner of:
directory for pregnancy, childbirth and parenting web sites.
childbirth education resources.

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Birth Resources provides information but it is not a substitute for professional midwifery or medical care. You should always seek the advice of your midwife, doctor or health professional for any concerns you may have regarding your health.

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