Breathing Techniques for First-Stage Labor

Purpose of Breathing Techniques.

When to Use Breathing Techniques. No special breathing techniques are necessary in early labor, when you’re still easily distracted from focusing on contractions. Begin using techniques when you can no longer walk and talk during contractions.

Always use the most basic technique possible (those near the top of this list), using the least effort required to manage each contraction. This helps prevent fatigue, and helps avoid the sensation of having already used all the techniques early on, leaving you with no new resources later in labor.

The Cleansing Breath

Slow, Relaxed, Abdominal Breathing

Light Breathing, a.k.a. Hee-Hee Breathing

Hee-Hee-Blow Breathing

Variable Hee-Blow Breathing

Slide Breathing

Practicing Breathing Techniques before Labor

Deep, abdominal breathing can be practiced any time: while driving, reading, or watching TV, at work, at times of stress, etc. It is beneficial not only during labor, but in all of life.

It’s also important to practice the other techniques until you become comfortable with them, and can use each for two minutes without feeling out of breath. If you begin to feel lightheaded or dizzy, take a deep cleansing breath, and start over again. If necessary, rebreathe your air by cupping your hands over nose and mouth, or breathing into a paper bag. Practice in various positions: sitting, side-lying, standing, hands-and-knees.

To help yourself remember to practice breathing techniques, set up cues. For example, every time you’re at a red light, do hee-hee breathing. During TV commercials, do hee-blow.

Tip: if your mouth feels dry, try touching the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

Breathing Techniques for Second-Stage Labor

How to Avoid Pushing, if necessary.

How to: Lift your chin, and arch your back a little. Either: Breathe deeply, relaxing your body. Or: Pant, blowing lightly. Some people recommend visualizing a feather, and blowing just enough to keep the feather bouncing up and down in the air above your lips.

When to use: If you are experiencing the urge to push, and your caregiver has told you that it is too early to begin pushing, or that there is some need to stop pushing temporarily.

Benefits: This won’t prevent your uterus from pushing, and it won’t take away the urge to push. However, it does keep you from adding your voluntary strength to a pushing effort.

Breathing for Birth

Breathing the baby out: Breathe in deeply, then on exhale, gently push downward with abdominal muscles, while visualizing the baby moving down and out. It may help to grunt or vocalize while exhaling. Continue this pattern through the contraction.

Pushing the baby out: During a contraction, when the urge to push becomes irresistible, then hold breath for five to seven seconds, while pushing. Then breathe deeply in and out again until the urge to push becomes strong. Repeat through contraction.

“Purple” pushing: In the past, some caregivers recommended holding your breath and pushing for as long as possible before coming up for air. However, this can cause a reduced oxygen supply to the fetus, and is not recommended.


Compiled by Janelle Durham, 2002 - 2008


Relaxation Techniques


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