Breathing techniques for labour

Learn these breathing techniques to help you through labour

Breathing techniques for labour

If you’ve ever watched a film with someone giving birth you’ll be familiar with the idea of panting while in labour, but did you know there are a whole range of breathing techniques which can be used during various stages of the labour process to keep you and baby healthy

Woman in labour

Why should I use breathing techniques during labour?

If you’re not the yoga type, the idea of using breathing techniques might sound a little silly, but they can be hugely beneficial for you and your baby. Relaxation techniques, including breathing, have been shown to reduce stress and the chances of requiring an assisted birth, as well as ensuring your baby has enough oxygen during labour to stay healthy and helping you conserve energy, so it’s well worth getting some practice in.

When should I use breathing techniques?

Different techniques are appropriate for different stages of labour, but you don’t need to wait until your waters burst to start practicing.
Your antenatal class should cover breathing techniques, but there are also a huge range of resources online to help you learn and practice. Try searching YouTube for ‘labour breathing techniques’ or using a meditation app such as Breathing Space or Calm.

Breathing for early labour

In early labour your contractions will be around 20 minutes apart and you will be up to 3cm dilated. During your contractions you can start practising slow, counted breathing.

Breathe in slowly through your nose while counting to three in your head, then out through your mouth while counting to four. Use the counting method to keep your ‘out’ breath slightly longer than your ‘in’ breath.

Breathing for active labour

Once you reach active labour your contractions will be 3-4 minutes apart, and you may feel you need to take faster, shallower breaths. Increasing your breathing speed during your contractions is ok, but don’t overdo it as shallow, rapid breathing (panic breathing) will cause your baby to receive less oxygen.

As your contraction begins keep your breathing slow and rhythmic, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Continued using the counted breathing method to keep your breaths long. You can ask your birthing partner to lead you if you find it difficult to count for yourself at this point.

As the contraction builds move to quicker, lighter breathing, around one breath per second. Your inhalations should be quiet but your exhalations should be clearly audible.  

At the height of the contraction you may want to try panting, like a dog, in and out through your mouth. Make sure to take a deeper breath every few breaths.
Once the contraction subsides return to the slow, deep, counted breathing.

Breathing during transition

As your reach the transition stage of labour it’s likely you’ll feel the urge to push, but hold off until the midwife tells you to.

Your midwife will instruct you on how to breathe at this stage, but a recommended technique for this stage of labour is using the “pant pant blow” method about six times per minute, while getting on all fours with your bum in the air – glam!

When your contraction starts take a deep breath in through your nose, then breathe out with two short pants and one longer blow. This method is also known as the “hee hee hoooo” method. The whole cycle from breathing in to blowing should take around 10 seconds.

Breathing during delivery

You’re almost there! At this stage you might feel a little scared and your breathing might become panicked which is not best for you or baby.

Have your birthing partner help you maintain your counted breathing at this point by breathing with you. Physical or eye-contact between you and your partner can keep you in sync. It’s a good idea to practise this together before you go into labour to ensure you both know what you’re doing.

When you contraction starts breathe in and out gently. It’s likely you’ll feel the urge to push around 3-4 times per contraction. When you feel the urge, take a deep breath and tuck your chin into your chest, then continue to breath in and out slowly. Your body will lead you at this point, though you may need some guidance from your midwife if you’ve had an epidural.

Finally as your baby crowns you will be told to stop pushing and pant your way through the last stages of delivery. Congratulations on your new arrival! 

Breathing techniques for labour