Birth Articles:

Breathing in labour


Not exactly rocket science: just breathe slowly in and out through each contraction. Try to to keep to a regular rhythm and keep the 'out' breath as long, if not slightly longer, than your 'in' breath.

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. 

  • As each contraction starts give out a long 'sighing' breath and then try to keep to the above slow, regular breathing - in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • As the contraction builds up you might feel the need to take faster, lighter breaths - just don't overdo it
  • At the contraction's peak it can help to pant - like a dog - in and out through your mouth, interspersed with a deeper breath every few breaths or so
  • As the contraction ebbs slow your breathing back down, so that you're back to breathing slowly and regularly by the end of it

As you near or reach transition, you may feel a desperate urge to push. Which you desperately need to resist until your midwife gives you the green light. (If you're not fully dilated you can do yourself a great disservice by trying to get your baby out early.)

Your midwife will undoubtedly ask you not to push and probably advise on how best to breathe at this point  - but panting and blowing out on your 'out' breath can help hugely... as can getting on all fours and sticking your bum in the air (nobody said labour was glamorous).

To practise this at home - the breathing, not the bum bit - try a 'pant, pant, blow' routine. (Strictly Come Dancing fans might like to think of this as 'quick, quick, slow'.) When you blow out, imagine you're trying to almost, but not quite, blow a candle out. 

Unless your midwife tells you otherwise, try not to hold your breath while you're pushing. It's easy to burst a facial blood vessel, which won't look great for those first pictures of you and your baby (in very extreme cases, you can end up with a pneumothorax, aka a hole in your lung). 

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 breathe or blow out slowly as you bear down.

Try to be led by what your body's telling you to do. Unless you have an epidural, then your body will actually push on its own, regardless of how you're breathing.

Keeping your pelvic floor as relaxed as possible, push from between your legs, rather than holding the tension in your throat, neck or face. (Yes, we know this appears stupidly obvious, but in reality this can be much harder than it sounds.) You'll probably want to push about four times per contraction - so don't forget to take a big breath in before each push.

Some women do small, frequent pushes. They should be spontaneous rather than organised with big breaths - unless you have an epidural and can't feel to 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.

"My son was almost born in the hospital car park so I did it with no pain relief. The really painful bit was in the 40-minute journey to hospital. It sounds cliched but I made myself breath to deal with it and it really worked." Whistlejacket

Giving birth can be frightening, and when you're scared your breathing rate speeds up and becomes erratic and inefficient at getting oxygen into your lungs. 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 birth partner and  can help by breathing with you during your labour.

You need eye-to-eye and physical contact for this to work well, so have your partner face you and hold your hands (or he can put his  hands on your shoulders and lean forward gently on them) and then have him breathe in through his nose and blow out gently on to your face. Following the pattern of his breaths will help you to focus on regulating and slowing your breathing back down.

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" and so on.

"Breathing helped me, although I've no idea whether it was just because I was concentrating on it rather than the pain or whether it was a more physiological reason... or perhaps a bit of both. I used the word 'relax' to help me: I breathed in to 're' and out to 'lax'. It worked really well until my partner kept asking, 'are you having a contraction?' and expecting me to answer! (I'm breathing deeply and swaying around like a cow with a grimace on my face... what do you think dumbass?!)" TillyScoutsmum

Co-breathing/counting can also work well with the other styles of breathing mentioned above, so take time out to practise together before you go into labour. You want your partner to feel prepared and confident about helping you if you need it: if you both understand what's going to work best, and when, you'll have a much better chance of co-breathing working for you.

Admittedly, you'll probably both feel rather daft doing this at home - we know we did - but during labour it can give you a massive boost.

"At the start I found that using gas and air helped me focus on my breathing. Then things started moving up a gear and I remember groaning as the urge to push got stronger. Meanwhile, my husband was being an absolute star and counting my breathing in and out so I didn't lose focus. There was one brief point, which I guess was transition, where I felt I was losing it but he got very stern about the breathing and brought me back into control. I could feel the baby moving down and was overawed at the realisation that there were actually two of us involved in this experience, it was just so amazing."

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I am living my dream while working with mums and babies. I see mums when they are 34 weeks pregnant and then go to their homes once they go into labour. I stay for the full duration of the labour and after the birth I assist them with breast feeding. I do another visit after the birth to see that all is well and to help where I can.  Mums are always welcome to call me in the event that they have any questions, whether before or after the birth. I am passionate about my work as a doula and I care and love all the families with which I work. Once you have been present at a birth you feel part of the family and it’s wonderful to hear news of the new baby’s life as he or she grows.

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