Breathing And Relaxation For Pain Relief During Labour
Labour pain can be intense, with tension, anxiety and fear. Learn how controlled breathing and relaxation can help you cope with contractions during labour.
Believe it or not, your due date will be here before you know it, and the third trimester is the perfect time to start practising relaxation and breathing techniques that you'll use during childbirth. These techniques can help you manage any discomfort you do feel and actively participate in your baby's birth. Use these techniques to teach yourself to work with your body and make labour easier on yourself and your baby.
How Does It Work?
During labour, your body releases different hormones. One of them and the most important is oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for bringing on contractions, and timing them until your baby arrives. Your body will also release the feel good hormone, called endorphins, to help you cope with the pain of your contractions. Stress and anxiety will make your body release more adrenaline, which dims the effect of the endorphins.
Your body's adrenaline will slow down the production of oxytocin. If this happens your contractions will reduce, and labour becomes protracted, putting you and your baby at risk. But when you're relaxed, your body works to help your baby descend through the birth canal.
Your best strategy is to breathe during contractions, and relax in between contractions.
A Relaxation Technique for Labour
One of the best ways to relax during labour is to learn to isolate the different muscles in your body. Your uterus must contract to push the baby down and retract the cervix over the baby's head. If other muscles are tight during contractions, you're wasting energy and oxygen. By learning to relax the rest of your muscle groups, you can focus on allowing most of your oxygen to travel to your uterus.
To learn how to relax your body during contractions, work with your partner. Prop yourself up against the pillows in your bed or lie on your side. Starting with your toes and moving up toward your head, focus on relaxing each individual set of muscles in your body.
The goal is to learn how to relax your entire body while one muscle contracts. Ideally, during early labour you should be able to relax your entire body when your uterus is contracting. How long you will be able to keep doing this throughout labor depends on how skilled you are at relaxing your muscles and the type of labor you are having.
A Breathing Technique for Labour
No matter your birth experience, breathing techniques can help make it faster and easier. Practicing them for several weeks before your delivery can delay or eliminate the need for pain medication during childbirth. Although there are variations, the point of these exercises is to teach you to focus your energy and work with your body as your baby makes his way into the world.
Paced Breathing Technique
Once labour contractions get so intense that you have to stop a conversation or halt your activities, it's time to start your paced breathing. Practice paced breathing techniques every day, starting at least 2 months before your due date. Here's how:
- 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).
- When you feel the beginnings of a contraction, 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.
Modified Paced Breathing Technique
In active stage 1 labour, when your cervix has dilated about 5 centimeters, the slow, deep breaths of paced breathing may no longer be enough to get you through a contraction. It's time to modify your paced breathing to keep up with the pace and intensity of labour.
Practice modified paced breathing, starting at least 6 weeks before your delivery date. Doing it daily will help you master conditioned responses to your midwife's demands:
- Take a deep, relaxing breath.
- When the contraction begins, start with your slow breathing. Accelerate your inhale-exhale pattern as the contraction builds and peaks, using faster, lighter breathing. Generally your contraction will peak around 30 seconds, and you can slow your breathing after that.
- There is no right time to begin modified breathing, or right pace. Generally you'll be breathing at twice your normal rate. The important thing is that your breathing should be regular, and you should take in the same amount of air that you exhale. If you feel light-headed, that means you're breathing in more oxygen than you're exhaling; if you find that your breaths are shallow, you're probably letting out more air than you're inhaling.
- You may still find that massaging your uterus helps you keep time and get through the contraction. However, some women find the extra sensation too overwhelming and have to stop at this point. Ask your partner to massage your thighs or back instead.