Breathing During Childbirth

Breathing During Childbirth

Friday, September 5, 2017

Written by: Cora Tomowich

“During labour, let your voice be strong and unhindered. Women have been silenced in the birth room for too long.” ~ Lauralyn Curtis, Hypnobirthing Educator, Certified Doula, and Yoga Instructor

Birth is one of the most natural processes of life. For a newborn, birth is the moment in which they finally join the world as an amazing little individual. For a new mum, birth is the moment in which they are allowed to marvel in the incredible capabilities of the human body and watch a new life begin from within. Since the beginning of humankind, this is how it has been; and as healthcare providers, we should strive to keep it this way!

For mums everywhere, there are hundreds of different opinions about how to facilitate an easier childbirth – breathing techniques being the most frequently discussed. In practice, I have come to learn a variety of different ways to breathe during labour. Hypnobirthing, for example, teaches self-hypnosis and restful breathing techniques that allow for easier movement through the birth canal. Similarly, I teach another restful technique called Modified Core Breathing, which encourages new mums to focus on keeping the pelvic floor relaxed as they breathe deeply and imagine the baby passively emerging from the body. Other techniques encourage more forceful methods of breathing to help push the baby out.

How do we know which breathing technique is best? Well, different techniques work differently for different people. Some healthcare providers are very specific about the type of breathing allowed during labour, while others are not. Perhaps it is best to let mum decide what works for her; thus, placing healthcare providers in a more supportive and less dominant role in the delivery room.

Questioning how it is…

Unfortunately during labour, many mums are encouraged to breathe in a manner that is almost counterintuitive to their preferred methods. Some are asked to remain silent, force their breath inwards, and make as little noise as possible to push the baby out – even if this is not the method they originally wanted to use. There have been cases where mum has been scolded for making noises, moaning, or practicing restful breathing techniques while in the push phase of labour. Why is that? How is scolding an acceptable way to treat a woman going through labour? And, if it feels most natural, why can’t new mums be allowed to make noise during childbirth?

It seems to me that healthcare providers might be unnecessarily interfering with the birth process. Research has shown that approximately 25-35% of women report having had a traumatic birth experience. Surprisingly, this trauma is not exclusively due to physical pain. Birth trauma is often a result of being mistreated by health care providers, being misinformed about interventions, being scared into making decisions, or no longer feeling in control of the birth.

Now, as we all know, there are sometimes unforeseen circumstances that present during labour and delivery. Sometimes we need to make quick decisions and alter our original birth plan. In these cases, intervention is necessary and we must trust the advice given by healthcare providers. When it comes to breathing, however, perhaps allowing mum the freedom to choose for herself is the better option.

The Happy Alternative…

Emerging evidence supports the use of restful breathing techniques instead of forcefully pushing baby through the birth canal. Once baby is fully dilated and the cervix is fully effaced, we should not be forcing mum to push outside of the urge to do so. Instead, mum should simply allow her body to work its magic. This is called “labouring down”, and it is a stage of labour that can significantly decrease time spent in the push phase of labour, prevent maternal and fetal exhaustion, and reduce the risk of postpartum complications (i.e., tearing, pelvic organ prolapse, and strain on a rectus diastasis). Experts also suggest that this type of breathing is better for reducing stress, anxiety, and the need for pain management medication during labour. As a pelvic health physiotherapist, I know that if a woman spends less time forcefully pushing down on her pelvic floor, she is more likely to have an easier postpartum recovery.

Many of my patients have reported that restful breathing techniques have made a world of difference in the birthing experience. Having the freedom to decide how you breathe and push/don’t push during labour promotes confidence and control over the birth experience – which is how it should be! Our bodies are designed to do incredible things if we prepare it well and allow it to work its magic.

So to all healthcare providers, please do not scold your mums. Instead, be supportive of her chosen breathing method and encourage her through her labour. And to new mums, you are in charge of your body and your decisions… we are simply here to advise and support!


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