Breathing for Birth

Specific breathing techniques can help facilitate relaxation during labour, but it doesn’t really matter which technique you use. Regardless of the style or technique, it’s important for you to find one that works for you that facilitates focus and a sense of calm. Yogic breathing techniques are another way to do this.

Before starting any breathing exercise, be sure that you are in a very comfortable seated position. If you are seated on the floor, place a folded blanket or pillow under the back of your hips so that you can sit with a relaxed, neutral spine. If your hips feel tight, place a pillow under each bent knee to support your legs to allow them to relax. If sitting on the floor is not comfortable for you, sit in a chair, making sure that your feet can stay planted flat on the floor about hip distance apart or wider, with the toes pointing forward. Again, making sure the spine is relaxed and neutral.

A good way to begin any breathing exercise is to find the comfortable seat you are going to use, close your eyes and focus on slowing down the breath first. Start the exercise once you feel your body has relaxed and your breath is smooth. Keep the eyes closed as you perform the exercise.

Expanding Breath

This exercise helps to deepen the breath, expand lung capacity and reduce stress. 

  1. Place the hands on the belly and allow the belly to move with the breath. Try to create a smooth breath through the nose. As you inhale, focus on bringing the breath deep into the abdominals as though you are pressing the air into the hands, feeling the belly expand forward. As you exhale, allow the belly to return slowly to neutral. Continue in this way for 1-3 minutes. 
  2. Move the hands to the sides of the ribcage, placing the palms at the sides of the body, thumbs back and fingers forward as you would place the hands on the hips. Again focus on bringing the inhales to the hands so the ribcage expands out to the sides. As you exhale, let the ribs come back to a neutral position. Continue again for 1-3 minutes.
  3. Move the hands up to the top of the torso so the fingers rest gently on the collarbones. Once again, bring the breath to the hands, feeling a slight lift in the collarbones as you do. As you exhale, allow the collarbones to relax back down. Continue for 1-3 minutes.

Note: The third part of this exercise may be difficult to feel as it is a very subtle movement in this part of the body. Don’t worry about making large movements, just try to create a small movement to get the sensation of expansion. Over time, this exercise will help you create greater lung capacity.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

This exercise helps to balance energy and calm the mind and body. It can be helpful for sleep as well.

  1. Take the index and middle fingers of the right hand and fold them down toward the palm, leaving the others straight. Lift the right hand up to the face to prepare. The left hand can stay in a relaxed position on your leg. Begin with a deep breath in and out to prepare. After the next inhale, close off the right nostril with your thumb. Exhale and take the next inhale through the left nostril.
  2. At the end of the inhale, close off the left nostril using the ring and pinky fingers and open the right nostril. Take another exhale and inhale through the right.
  3. Switch nostrils and repeat. Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Note: It is important that you try to breath through the nose throughout this exercise. Avoid if you have severe nasal congestion. Sometimes this exercise is taught with a brief retention of the breath. Holding the breath should be avoided in pregnancy.

Bellows Breath

This exercise helps to balance energy and create more space in the abdomen for your growing baby. 

  1. Interlace the fingers and press the palms towards each other. Tuck the knuckles under your chin. Stay in this position as you take a deep inhale through the nose.
  2. Begin separating your palms and lifting your elbows as you tip the chin back, keeping the knuckles pressing gently under the chin. While doing this, exhale strongly through an open mouth as though you are trying to fog up a mirror.
  3. Inhale through the nose as you move back to the starting position. Repeat for 1-3 minutes.

Note: If you find it hard to coordinate the movement and the breath, practice this breath without the movement.

See if one of these techniques works for you. If you practice it consistently leading up to your birth, it will be much easier for you to fall into this calming breathing pattern during labour.