How to use your breath to help with Labour

labour breathingIn the prenatal yoga classes I teach, I dedicate quite a bit of time to breath awareness. This means that when “labour day” arrives, using the breath to help stay relaxed will be second nature.  The hormone oxytocin has multiple functions in childbirth, one of them is causing the uterus to contract. Rising levels of stress can actually lower the production of oxytocin and slow or stop contractions!  The breath is such a great indicator of your state of mind. If your breath starts to become faster and more shallow, the chances are your stress levels are rising. By lengthening the breath, stress levels reduce.

Here are a few breathing techniques that can be practiced during pregnancy to make relaxation through breath instinctive. When you are in labour, gentle relaxation will be second nature 😉

Breath Awareness
During pregnancy, practice breath awareness.
I start most yoga classes by simply sitting and observing the breath. Don’t try and change it. After a few moments you can start to lengthen your inhale and slow down your exhale. Notice how you feel at the start of this practice and after a few moments of breath awareness.

The Calming Breath Technique
This is such a great breathing practice for labour!  Begin by observing your breath. Keep the breath steady, breathing in and out of your nose. Focus on letting go of any tension in your shoulders, jaw and mouth and also your buttocks and cervix during  your exhale.
Now visualise your breath moving form the pelvic floor, up the centre of the body, to the 3rd eye (space between the eyebrows)  during an inhale and then moving back down from the 3rd eye to the pelvic floor during an exhale. Counting each inhale and exhale really helps to stay focused on the breath. A count of 4, 5 or 6 for each inhale and exhale works for most people. You can lengthen this count if it feels comfortable to do so but the breath should not feel anyway forced.

I found “The Calming Breath” technique really helpful in early labour.  If you regularly include this in you pregnancy yoga practise it’ll be easy to tune into this technique during labour.

The Golden Thread Breath
At a certain point during labour, as your contractions intensify, you feel the need to blow your breath out gently through your mouth.
At this stage it may help to practise “The Golden Thread Breath”. You can visualise a beautiful spool of golden thread just in front of your lips. As you exhale imagine you are trying to blow the spool of thread away from you. You can imagine sunlight shimmering on the golden thread as more of it is reveled as the spool moves further and further away from you. As your are doing this you keep your mouth and jaw relaxed as tensing this area of the body may also cause you to tense your pelvic floor which will not help the effectiveness of your contractions.
It is possible to use “The Golden Thread” technique while also using Gas and Air and sitting on your exercise ball or in an upright position. Again, if you regularly include this in you pregnancy yoga practise, it will be far easier to focus on it while in labour.

A piece of advise I regularly give in my yoga classes, is to ask your birth partner to remind you to tune into your breath when your in labour especially if they notice you getting stressed. They can start the count of each of your breaths if you get distracted from this.
Using breath awareness from early labour will help you stay calm and in control and hopefully make your labour a really positive experience as possible for you and your baby!