For better or worse, Lamaze has long had an association in people's minds with breathing -- the "ha-hee" patterned breathing in particular. The Lamaze method is so much more than this, of course, and breathing strategies are just one of the coping tools taught in a typical Lamaze class. But, as I always stress to my students, labor coping strategies aren't just for labor, they're for life. And even though learning to breathe deeply is just one skill among many, it is by far my favorite -- and along with informed decision-making, I think it's the most valuable life skill we teach.
Learning to live in the moment is one of the most significant challenges that many mothers face as they prepare for labor. Managing labor successfully requires women just to be -- to let each contraction come, and then to let it go, not hanging on to the past and not anticipating the future. And it's harder than we think, because our culture whirls so quickly, with a give-me-tomorrow-yesterday attitude. Deep breathing, which is measured and slow-paced, is a perfect way to ground yourself in the present, giving you a focal point that is easily combined with other relaxation techniques like visualization.
Relaxation benefits labor because it allows oxytocin to function as it should, and it aids in endorphin production, which helps to relieve labor discomfort. But deep breathing has benefits beyond promoting relaxation. It boosts mom's oxygen supply, which in turn helps baby to tolerate contractions. There is really no better way to manage labor than to breathe your way through it!
But what about after birth? You probably won't routinely use the double hip squeeze once your baby is born, but deep breathing is a skill that you can use to cope with everyday challenges of motherhood. Many of the stressors of labor -- fear of the unknown, fear of or actual overwhelm, physical discomfort, and exhaustion -- continue, though in different form, into motherhood. Deep breathing works, whether you are coping with afterbirth pains, breast engorgement, or an aching back from bouncing baby, whether it's keeping your calm when baby has her first fever, or won't stop crying, or gets her first shots. "Three deep breaths breaks the stress cycle," my friend and fellow Lamaze educator Marianne Evans is fond of saying, and she's right. I can't even count the number of times this past week I have resorted to this technique to keep myself in control and calm!
But let's think back again to that most significant challenge moms face: living in the present moment. If we don't find ways to keep ourselves grounded, the hectic pace of life will either suck us in or run us over. As Aviva Romm says in Natural Health after Birth,
So breathe deeply, and savor every moment of your crazy-beautiful journey of motherhood!
"Trust the past to the Mercy of God,
the present to His Love,
and the future to His Providence."
~ St. Augustine
About S.K. Valenzuela
S.K. is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator and teaches childbirth and baby care classes at a major Dallas hospital. She also enjoys freelancing about all things mothering. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released in January 2013. She also enjoys writing fiction, and her second novel, The Lords of Askalon will be out in November. For more information about her current projects, please visit her at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six beautiful children live in Dallas, Texas.