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This Ain't Your Mother's Labour Breathing

You all remember it from the movies...HEE HEE HOOOO, HEE HEE HOOOO. This type of breathing in labour is both not effective AND stress inducing. That's right, the quick pace and lack of focus on the inhale can cause your heart rate to increase and a depletion of oxygen to both you and your baby. On a personal level, I just find it obnoxious.

Breathing exercise

During my prenatal visits with labour clients, we sometimes practice more beneficial breathing exercises which I will explain to you here. The first one is called,

Pursed Lip Breathing: This breathing exercise focuses primarily on the exhale which can be great for coping with pain in active labour. The process is simple, inhale through your nose for 2 counts, pause and hold for 1 count, exhale for 4 counts. Remember a while back when everyone's selfies also included duck lips? Do that! Purse your lips and PUSH the air out and away from your body. This breathing exercise can be used throughout labour, but is very effective during active labour when the pain is especially difficult.

Horse Lip Breathing: This can sometimes feel silly at the beginning, but I promise it will be your most effective tool. After each contraction, take a deep breath, purse your lips and make them soft. On the exhale, try to get them to vibrate together (picture a horse neighing). The idea behind this technique is that it will help make your jaw soft. A soft jaw = a soft pelvis which will allow for quicker dilation. I like to use this one after each and every contraction, a way to "shake off" that one and help prepare for the next. TIP: get your partner to do this one with you. At the same time, they can place their hands on your shoulders as a reminder to relax them, lowering them from your shoulders.

Balloon Belly: I'm sure there are a million other names for this one, but I find ballon belly very easy to remember. Place one hand over your heart and one hand on your belly. As you inhale, pretend your stomach is a ballon that you are trying to fill up with air. Closing your eyes and visualizing this step is sometimes helpful, and is also a really great relaxation tool. Now, as you exhale, try to give your baby a big hug from the inside! This technique can be used throughout labour, but may be more helpful during the earlier stages and when relaxing between contractions.

4-7-8: The concept of this breathing technique is both distraction, and to slow your breathing down if it feels out of control. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts and exhale for 8. Now, I'm not pregnant, and this seems really challenging, so I totally understand if you don't reach those numbers. But, that isn't really the point when using this tool in labour. The point is, that you are shifting your attention from the pain of your contraction, to paying close attention to the way that you are breathing. We call this "attention focusing." This tool is best used in active labour and the transition stage (the very end of labour when things are most intense)

I hope these new and improved breathing techniques help! Be sure to practice them throughout your pregnancy to ensure it feels comfortable and seamless on your big day. As always, if you're looking for a prenatal class or labour doula in Norfolk County, Brant County or Haldimand County, you can reach The Doula Tree at or by calling 905-869-2069

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