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Can you really breathe your baby out?

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

As a hypnobirthing teacher, this is something I’m often asked. When we think of birth and the imagery we associate with it, we often picture someone red-faced, on their backs being shouted at to ‘PUUUSSSSH’. So, the idea of ‘breathing your baby out’ seems a bit far-fetched. But, yes the breath and the body are incredible, designed to birth a baby and can work really well together.

However, let’s take a moment here to say, that all birth, no matter how it unfolds is an incredible feat of courage, bravery and strength. And, there are no ‘best births’, every birth is unique and different, some things just happen and are beyond our control despite our best intentions. And, to be crystal clear, my hypnobirthing courses are not about a drug-free, painless birth – no one can promise you that. It’s about knowing your options and that you learn the right birthing techniques to cope. Breathing is just one of those.


What’s so awesome about breathing?

Breathing is fundamental and is an incredibly powerful tool that links our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which controls bodily functions such as digestion, heart rate, breathing rate and elimination (wee, poo, babies!), and our Voluntary Nervous System, which is responsible for our conscious movement and our senses. So, we breathe without thinking about it, but also have the ability to control and use our breath to our advantage.

We can use our breath to switch our bodies from a fight, flight or freeze state (sympathetic response) to a rest and digest state (parasympathetic response).




How can breathing help in labour?

If in labour we feel anxious, panicky or tense it is likely that our breathing is shallow and fast, this triggers a sympathetic response in the body. We freeze, we get tense, we get a shot of adrenaline – not what you need in labour. Tense muscles hurt if they are contracted and adrenaline will slow down or stop contractions.

In labour, ideally we want to be in a rest and digest state, this means our body and our muscles are relaxed, we feel safe, we feel calm and we are able to let go. Breathing deeply and fully can help to trigger this parasympathetic response in our body, which also promotes the release of the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is ‘the’ hormone when it comes to labour as it stimulates uterine contractions and therefore cervical dilation (important to get baby out).



What techniques can I try?

In hypnobirthing, we tend to focus on two different types of breath, though there are many others that you may wish to try. The first breath technique is in for four, out for more. So, breathing in to a count of four and then breathing out to a longer count. Elongating the outbreath is what stimulates the parasympathetic response. Help you feel calm, getting loads of oxygen and nutrients to your uterus muscles and supporting you through early and active labour.

For the pushing stage of labour, you can try a short sharp breath in, and then a long and downward outbreath. Quite literally, focus on sending the outbreath down, past baby and out. Release and relaxing as it goes.



Bonus tips:

Practise your breathing techniques daily, it takes no time at all, no one will notice and this way when it comes to labour it’ll feel comfortable and natural to get into a slower pattern of breathing. Additionally, breathing in this way (particularly the in for four, out for more) is an incredibly calming breath which can be used in many situations, including for example a caesarean birth when you want to calm.

When practicing your breathing technique, also think about relaxing your jaw, neck and shoulders. This will help your pelvic floor muscles to relax too, as they are connected via myofascial tissues running through the body.

Want to learn more about supporting your body through labour? Interested in other coping techniques and pain relief for labour? If you're looking for pregnancy classes near you then Mamas tlc offers antenatal classes and workshops in Cambridgeshire. Check out my hypnobirthing courses here.

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