Many new (or even new again!) moms-to-be know that a big part of birth is your breathing process. After all, isn’t that what we see in the movies? The big “hee-hee-hooo” and the mom struggling to get breaths out, all sweaty and screaming? And obviously, everything we see in the movies is correct…right?

Well, no. From the labored breathing to the rushing around to get to the hospital the second a woman’s water breaks, the movies make labor out to be something that is almost unbearable. And sometimes it can be. But it doesn’t have to be, especially when you go into it armed with some important techniques that can help you get through the labor process a little bit smoother.

How Breathing Techniques During Labor Are Like Working Out

Proper breathing during extraneous activity is important. And labor is one of the most extraneous activities there is out there. But even professional athletes will do perform breathing exercises and techniques to strengthen their lung capacity and to ensure that they are using their breath to help them perform at the best of their ability.

According to Healthline.com, proper breathing for athletes has been found to be very beneficial.

“It allows your body more control, keeping you calm and alert throughout your workout so you can actively engage all your muscles. It might even give you the ability to lift more. And in the long term, practicing proper breathing will:

  • reduce the amount of air you need to breathe in and out during a given exercise
  • help your muscles produce less carbon dioxide
  • improve blood circulation and heart health
  • maximize your workout and fitness level

What does that mean for laboring moms? Well, it allows your muscles to get the most oxygen possible during labor, which will help with contractions and the active labor phase of pushing. Practicing proper breathing techniques before your baby arrives will also help increase your lung capacity and help you get yourself in shape for the stressful activity of birth.

Breathing Techniques During Labor Are Helpful For Stress Reduction

Proper breathing during stressful situations is important as well, and although labor and delivery can be a very calm experience, it is still one of the most stressful situations your body will experience. Breathing your way through the anxiety, the stress, and the pain can help lower your pain experience and help your body manage the stress properly.

According to Laura Peterson, R.N. for the Mayo Clinic, “During stressful moments, conscious breathing allows you to shift and release negative energy instead of storing it in your body. This is important because stored-up energy often manifests as muscle tension and other physical ailments. Breathwork has other benefits, too. It can increase alertness and oxygen flow and allow your body to release toxins more readily. Although breathing is something your body naturally does, it's also a skill that can be sharpened.

For laboring mothers, this means that conscious breathing during labor can help reduce tension and relax your muscles during the birthing process, making birth more comfortable and allowing your baby to pass through the birth canal more easily. Breathing techniques are something you can easily practice well before your baby arrives too, so that when the most stressful moments come you can easily slip into the breathing techniques you have practiced and learned over the previous months without even thinking about it.

Different Types of Breathing Techniques For Laboring Moms

There are several different types of breathing techniques that you can use during labor to help reduce your stress and make your body as efficient as possible in terms of the physical aspect of labor and delivery. All of these breathing techniques can be practiced long before your baby arrives. In fact, it is highly recommended that you practice any breathing techniques so that your body can learn how to breathe properly without your mind having to consciously think about it (because let’s be honest, you’ll have other stuff on your mind during labor and delivery!) and so that your body can increase its fitness level.

Lamaze

One of the most common breathing techniques, and the one you often see most often portrayed in the movies, is Lamaze. Lamaze became a popular birthing program in the 1970s and some of its practices have stuck around for decades. Lamaze continues to be a go-to birthing class for many new moms; it is one of the most popular birthing practices to this day. Conscious breathing used to be one of the hallmarks of the Lamaze practice but that isn’t the only thing Lamaze teaches you.

According to Lamaze.org, “Lamaze is not just about breathing. Lamaze childbirth classes prepare you for a safe, healthy birth by providing the most current, evidence-based information, simplifying birth and helping you navigate the maze of modern maternity care.”

However, conscious breathing (also known as patterned breathing which is the “hee-hee-hooo” you see in movies) does continue to be a staple in Lamaze techniques. According to their website, “Conscious breathing is not only easy to learn and use, but is also an especially useful labor tool because it keeps you and your baby well oxygenated. It’s naturally rhythmic and easy to incorporate into a ritual.”

If Lamaze is something you think you might be interested in looking into for your labor experience, you can visit lamaze.org to find a location near you that teaches these important breathing techniques. You can also find hundreds, if not thousands, of videos online on YouTube that also teach these types of breathing techniques.

Paced breathing techniques

There are also other ways to consciously breathe during labor that can help reduce pain and stress during delivery. Paced breathing techniques can be practiced well before your baby arrives and allow you to focus your breathing on something external, forcing you to really become mindful of your breath and your process. Here is one way you can practice paced breathing according to parents.com:

Take a deep breath to fill your lungs completely and exhale it.

Channel your energy by focusing on one spot on the wall, ceiling, or floor (depending on your position).

During labor, you will want to breathe on contractions. When a contraction begins, take 5-10 deep breaths for a minute. As you inhale, place your hands on the lower part of your abdomen and stroke gently upward toward your ribs. As you exhale, let your hands glide back down. Massaging the uterus during a contraction can help ease the discomfort, much like massaging a cramp in your leg.

Breathe normally when your Contraction ends.

Practice your paced breathing exercises in all of the basic labor positions — sitting in a chair, reclining on pillows, lying on your side, standing, and kneeling against a large ball or bed.

Abdominal breathing during labor

If you practice yoga at all, you have heard, or at least practiced, some type of abdominal breathing. This is the conscious effort to breathe in through your nose, filling your belly with breath, and out through your mouth. This is one of the most effective and simple ways to reduce stress and utilize your breath during labor, and it has been found to be one of the best ways to reduce pain during labor. According to Evidence-Based Birth, “Electroencephalography (EEG) studies on this type of abdominal breathing have found that even just a few minutes of using this type of breathing alters your brainwaves in a positive way, increases your relaxation response, decreases your stress hormones, decreases your blood pressure, and increases your oxygen levels.”

So what does that mean for birthing mothers? Well, abdominal breathing can help lower your stress levels during birth, relax your emotions and your physical body, decrease your blood pressure during birth, and increase your (and your baby’s) oxygen levels. All of which can help your labor and delivery process be a much smoother experience.

When Should I Practice My Breathing Techniques For Labor and Delivery?

You can start practicing your breathing techniques for labor and delivery anytime, but you should really start honing it in around two months before baby’s arrival. A simple practice of just 5 minutes per day can help you achieve muscle memory for your labor and delivery, even if you are having a stressful birth, and can help increase your body’s lung capacity and fitness level.

You also don’t just have to sit there and breathe. Doing certain exercises like yoga, tai chi, or even running, walking, and weight lifting can help you work on your breathing techniques as long as your conscious of your breath during your workouts. In fact, exercise will not only help with your breath but it will also help prepare your body for labor and delivery, and help make recovery easier after the baby is born.


Breathing techniques are simple and effective for labor and delivery, and for many of life’s daily stressors. Working on your breath will help reduce your stress and increase your physical fitness- which is something we can all work on every day, baby or not!


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