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Breathing Techniques That Work Best for You During Labor and Delivery

By Carolyn Heneghan June 30, 2016 Posted in: Family Health , Article

"Hee-hee-who ... hee-hee-who ... " Sound familiar? For those of you who've been pregnant or helped your significant other through the process of giving birth, that unmistakable breathing pattern should ring a bell.

But there's a lot to know about pregnancy and breathing techniques beyond this easy-to-remember mnemonic. Here's an overview of patterned breathing and how to use the practice so that you or your loved one can have the best possible labor experience.

Why Practice Patterned Breathing?

What's the rationale behind breathing techniques during labor, anyway? According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), the benefits of patterned breathing include:

  • Relaxing the mother and improving her response to pain.
  • Helping the mother feel focused and in control.
  • Improving oxygen flow to increase strength in both the mother and the baby.

Expectant moms can also use breathing patterns designed for labor throughout the entire pregnancy to help them feel relaxed and centered in their day-to-day lives.

The Different Techniques

The breathing techniques that you can use during pregnancy and labor go far beyond "hee-hee-who." The APA highlights several different methods, including:

  • The organizing breath. This is how you should begin every breathing pattern. Inhale deeply, and exhale with a big sigh. This will increase focus and release tension.
  • Slow breathing. This technique is pretty much what it sounds like: Inhale slowly through the nose, and exhale through your mouth. Be patient, and take the next breath when you're ready. This type of breathing helps manage contraction pain.
  • Light accelerated breathing. This is a faster pattern than involves taking rapid, shallow breaths through the mouth at a rate of about one breath per second. During labor, the pace should increase as the contraction intensifies and decrease as it slows down.
  • Variable or transition breathing. This is the popular "hee-hee-who" or "pant-pant-blow" technique, where you breathe in lightly, taking shallow inhalations, and breathe out with long, relaxing exhalations.
  • Expulsion breathing. This technique is guided by the contraction: The mother speeds up and lightens her breathing as she's comfortable until she can no longer resist the urge to push. She then takes a deep breath, leans forward, and breathes out with a moan or grunt.

How to Use the Techniques

During the first stage of labor, the APA recommends that moms switch between slow, light accelerated, and variable breathing as they feel comfortable -- the main goal is to help them relax. Stick with a particular technique for as long as it helps, then move on to another. Think about incorporating a visual at this stage: The delivering mom might focus on her partner or a spot on the wall, or she can call to mind some object or scene that makes her feel centered and peaceful.

Expulsion breathing should be the primary technique during the second stage of labor as the moment of delivery gets closer. This method, as its name implies, is designed to help the mom push more forcefully. Taking one or two deep, relaxing breaths between expulsion breaths can help the mother keep calm and improve oxygen flow.

What Works Best for You

Most importantly, remember that there's no single right way for moms to breathe during labor and delivery -- it's all about finding your rhythm. In fact, seeking a comfortable breathing method will help the baby rotate and descend, keeping the process of labor moving along smoothly.

Perform the breathing techniques that have a calming and relaxing effect for you personally. Try them out throughout the pregnancy, and if a particular method works well for you or your loved one, you can always fall back on that breathing pattern.

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