This chapter provides several different examples of breathing patterns for you to try. We encourage you to be flexible in adapting the breathing patterns to your own needs. Most childbirth educators now teach deep relaxed breathing and shallow chest breathing as options. Try the patterns offered here and then decide how to adapt them to your own needs and comfort level.
Many women are very creative about finding what helps them to relax and stay focused. Some do not care to focus on breathing at all, but instead try to focus on music or a focal point such as a favorite photograph. If your partner is very observant, he or she will note your strengths and weaknesses during labor practice sessions and each phase of labor, and then she/he can help you focus on what you are doing.
The following comprise the common qualities of the two primary breathing patterns.
Relaxation is the key to comfortable control during labor, and breathing patterns augment the relaxation of your mind and body.
Individuality should be considered when choosing breathing patterns. Breathing patterns should be modified to complement individual breathing styles and to meet particular physiological and psychological needs.
Oxygenation for the baby and contracting uterus can be maintained with the help of breathing patterns.
Flexibility is important. Trust your physical sensations and adapt breathing patterns to meet your individual contractions.
Comfort with your breathing patterns, as well as relaxed breathing, will help you conserve energy and decrease fatigue. Comfort is also important because you may be using the breathing patterns for many hours.
Pacing your breathing and being able to adjust the rate of speed at which you breathe helps you meet your changing physiological and psychological needs during labor. In general, breathing should be kept as slow and rhythmic as possible.
Attention focusing can be achieved through breathing patterns. Such purposeful activity will help decrease pain perception. To help maintain concentration, use a focal point as you breathe. Your eyes may be opened (for a visual image) or closed (for a mental image), whichever is most comfortable and effective for you.
Cleansing breaths—a slow breath in through your nose and out through your mouth—should begin and end each breathing pattern. The cleansing breath acts as a signal to your body and coach that a contraction is beginning or ending, and thus you must completely relax.
Effleurage, a stroking massage over the abdomen and/or groin region, may be done concurrently with the breathing patterns during some or all of your contractions if it feels good to you. As your contractions increase in intensity, it may feel better to use a firmer massage.
Respiratory balance refers to the proper oxygen/carbon dioxide balance in your blood. To maintain this balance, inhale and exhale equal amounts of air.
Practice and learn your breathing patterns before labor begins to make them effective, familiar responses to uterine contractions.
Awareness of your normal breathing rate is helpful before you begin practicing the breathing patterns. Counting your breaths for one minute may do this. It is helpful to focus your attention on your breathing in order to become aware of how the breath feels in your nose, mouth, throat, shoulders, chest, abdomen, and back. You may also want to become aware of the temperature of the air inhaled and exhaled and the sounds you make as you breathe.
Deep Relaxed Breathing
Begin this basic breathing pattern when you need additional assistance in maintaining comfortable control and relaxation. Use it as long as you can and return to it whenever possible.
Shallow Chest Breathing
Use this pattern when deep relaxed breathing is not effective in maintaining relaxation and comfortable control. The defined, repetitive rhythm of shallow chest breathing can produce a general physiological and psychological calming effect. Return to deep relaxed breathing whenever possible.
The Coach’s Role
Relaxation: As mother breathes during practice and labor, check her relaxation. Help her relax through your touch and words.
Breathing: Keep her breathing slow and rhythmical. Become her focal point and breathe with her (at her rate) when she is having difficulty.
- Count off the seconds for practice contractions and use verbal cues to assist mother through the contraction; for a 60-second contraction, you would say,
- “contraction begins…”
- “15 seconds…”
- “30 seconds…”
- “45 seconds…”
- “contraction ends” (60 seconds).
- During actual labor, you will time and count off the seconds for her real contractions.
- Practice contractions may be incorporated into daily life, i.e., a contraction may be the length of a TV commercial, a song, or it may be a part of a daily walk.