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“Don’t forget to breathe” might sound like the most obvious piece of advice you can give someone, but learning special breathing techniques for labour can help you get through each stage, stop you from involuntarily pushing (which is important- you don’t want to push when you aren’t fully dilated!), and help you feel more centered throughout your birth experience.

Breathing techniques you will use in each stage of labour are great to know- and something you will use at home in early labour, in the car, in triage and in your hospital room. These skills are transferrable to wherever you are!

You don’t want the first time you try these techniques to be at the big event (labour). I suggest learning them and practicing at home which will feel bizarre. Practice before bed, after dinner and talk about each technique with your support person so they can cue and remind you when you need refocusing during your birth. Pain can be distracting and a reminder to breathe can be enough to get you back on track.

Breathing for early labour

This is when it is important to take long, deep slow breaths. Make the “in” slightly longer than the “out”. Start focusing on your breath at the beginning of each contraction and at the end let it go with a big sigh. It can help to count your way through each breath – breathe in for three and out for four – and to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Pregnant woman undergoing a contraction during labour with husbaBreathing for active labour

This breathing is similar as early labour except you might feel the need to breathe faster, it’s just important you don’t let your breath get away from you! As the contraction peaks (the most intense part of the contraction) it can help to pant (in and out of your mouth). The key is to do this between long slow breaths. Five seconds of panting in between long, slow breaths.

Breathing during transition

As you near or reach transition, you may feel a desperate urge to push. Which you  need to resist until your nurse gives you the green light. The pain and pressure can be intense and it actually feels better to push, but if you aren’t fully dilated you risk swelling your cervix by pushing on it. At this point it is really helpful to flip onto all fours and breathe like they do in the movies! Think pant-pant-blow, pant-pant-blow. In between contractions, make a conscious effort to relax your face, your jaw, your hands and feet. Lean over the bed and revert back to long slow breaths.

The process of labour can feel overwhelming and it is easy to start breathing too quickly. This causes panic and anxiety in lots of women. Your baby needs oxygen – and so do you. And if you don’t get enough you will feel wobbly and tire quickly, just when you need as much energy as possible. Holding your breath for a long time will have a similar effect. This is where your support person can help by breathing with you during your labour. Have him face you and breathe with you, he may need to exaggerate his breath so you are reminded to breathe with him. He can also gently remind you to breathe, or count for you. This is something you should practice at home as silly as it sounds. Your partner can also help by counting for you as you breathe – it will help you keep your breathing speed under control – or by reminding you to ‘pant, pant, blow”.

Breathing during delivery

You did it! Fully dilated! Now it’s time to push! Most women feel a sense of relief, the pain of contractions diminishes with pushing.  As each contraction starts, breathe in and out gently, and then, when you feel the urge to push, take a deep breath in, tuck your chin into your chest and bear down. Try to be led by what your body’s telling you to do. Even women with epidurals most of the time can feel the pressure of a contraction at this stage. Keeping your pelvic floor as relaxed as possible, and don’t hold the tension in your legs, throat, neck or face. You’ll probably want to push about three times per contraction – so don’t forget to take a big breath in before each push. As your baby crowns you may be told to stop pushing and just pant – this will help slow things down a bit and can help to prevent you tearing.

Birth Sign Made Of Wooden Cubes

These techniques will help get you through labour and get you to the finish line. Each breath will bring you closer to your prize, your baby!

Questions? I am always here to help. Comment below or send me a message!


Carrie Bruno RN, IBCLC



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