Breathing for Two (Part two)
“Just breath” is probably the most obvious thing to say to someone in labour, but despite it being an automatic function of the body, it’s not necessarily going to come second nature to you when you need it most. It will be, however, the last thing you want to forget.
Rhythmic, controlled breathing during labour not only maximises the amount of oxygen you and baby will receive, but it can relax the body, aiding the birthing process and work as a natural pain relief. If you lose control and shift into a state of panic, allowing your breath to become short and gaspy, your muscles will tighten and you can begin to feel light headed and out of control. This panic-style breathing is a common reaction in times of stress, but it can exhaust your body at a time when you need to reserve your energy as much as possible. I’ve often heard labour compared to that of running a marathon, and you wouldn’t run a marathon without training right? Well, breathing is as much a part of marathon training as the actual act of running and the same goes for labour. Essentially, the more preparation you can do with the breath before having your baby, the more likely that these breathing techniques will become second nature to you when you need them most.
Finding a rhythm to your breath
One of the most basic techniques you can master is simply that of breathing rhythmically in and out of the nose. As mentioned in the previous blog, use a counting method to ensure your in breath and out breath are of the same length. If anything, your exhale should be slightly longer (this is what you’re going to use to maintain control during contractions) In the midst of intense contractions, you may decide to exhale out of the mouth, which is fine as long as the breath doesn’t get faster shifting to panic breathing.
Give yourself a focus
Often giving yourself something to focus on during contractions can help you to maintain control. Techniques such as counting, as previously mentioned, or giving yourself a mantra. A mantra is a word or short phrase that you repeat to yourself. Something as simple of repeating the words “LET” as you inhale and “GO” as you exhale – perhaps choose something that describes the effect you wish to create – “RE – LAX” (broken into two syllables), “JUST” – “BREATH”, or even as simple as “IN” & “OUT”.
You may then like to engage other techniques to assist you, such as listening to music or focusing your gaze on a particular object that you find calming.
Breath is the link between the mind and body – Dan Brule
Breathing between contractions
Using the breath in the breaks is just as important as using it to ride the intensity of contractions. This is a valuable time to regain your composure, and focus, as well as reserve your energy for the rest of the journey. As with contractions, make sure you keep a steady rhythm to your breath. If you have lost focus during the last contraction, this is the time to regain control. You also might like to engage techniques to assist the emotional journey you’ll be travelling.
Nadi Shodana (or alternate nasal breathing) – if there is still some distance between your contractions, you may find it useful to practice Nadi Shodana, which can help rebalance the body. It is particularly helpful in times of stress. Use the thumb and first finger of your right hand, to alternately block your right and left nostril. Start by blocking your right nostril and inhaling through the left. Release the right nostril, block your left nostril and exhale through the right. Inhale through the right, then release your left nostril, block your right nostril and exhale through the left. That concludes one round – inhale left, exhale right, inhale right, exhale left. If you find actually blocking the nostrils too restrictive or stressful, then you can simply visualise the breath moving in either nostril.
Brahmari breath (or humming bee breath) is another effective way to focus the breath and the vibrations created in the body can be soothing for both you and baby. Maintain your slow, rhythmic breathing, but hum as you exhale. Continue with a long, controlled exhale as you hum. At the end of your exhale, take in a slow, deep breath and exhale on a long hum again. Continue in this pattern for as long as feels comfortable.
Practice makes perfect
As I said before, the more you can practice this before you give birth, the more chance you have of being able to effectively engage these breathing practices when you need them. Carve out five minutes a day to find your breath and a technique that works for you.
In the end, just breath.
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