Mindful Breathing for Pregnancy and Birth
We don’t usually spend too much time thinking about our breath. Luckily, our autonomic nervous system takes care of that for us, so that we can go about our days preparing 5-course dinners, planning career advancement strategies, or….well, driving the kids to football practice. That doesn’t mean, however, that our bodies don’t benefit from a little attention to the breath. Science seems to have established that deep breathing helps to combat the stress of contemporary lifestyles, and may help to ward off disease by evoking a relaxation response.
If relaxing the body through focus on the breath can improve health by helping us to cope with daily stress, imagine the implications that this might have for the importance of breath when we are facing one life’s most beautiful and amazing challenges: giving birth. Deep breathing during birth brings more life-giving oxygen to both mother and baby, and combined with visualizations or affirmations, it can help to sharpen the mother’s focus on the birthing process. As she focuses on the breath she creates a calm and protective environment where panic is simply unwelcome, and the birth can happen in a state of relative ease and relaxation.
There are many different birth preparation techniques that incorporate breath. I encourage all women to research and explore the various approaches and find one that is right for them. Taking a birth preparation class will not only help to build confidence so that you are in the right mindset when the time arrives, but it will also give you the opportunity to practice working consciously with the breath so that it eventually becomes an integral part of the body’s natural response during the birthing process.
Having said that, I think that conscious breathing is something that can also be practiced at home, even if only for 5 minutes a day. Not only will this allow you to experiment and find the techniques that work best for you, but the daily practice of focus on the breath will cultivate a state of relaxation that is beneficial to both your and your baby’s health. Below is one simple breathing exercise that you can try at home and here is a video that offers a guided yogic prenatal breathing exercise.
The following exercise is often used in yoga and can help you get in a relaxed state of mind. This is your time … a time for complete and utter relaxation.
- Turn off your phone, dim the lights and if you wish, turn on soothing music
- Find a quiet place to relax, either sitting or lying down
- Make sure you are warm and comfortable, place your hands loosely in your lap or by your side and close your eyes
- Breathe in relaxation and breathe out stress and tension while noticing how your abdomen rises and falls with each breath
- Become aware of all your muscles and begin to relax them, one by one, starting from your head and moving down to your toes – Please note: your jaw has a direct connection to your vaginal outlet and needs to be relaxed now and during childbirth
- Once your body is completely relaxed, enjoy the moment for as long as you wish and when you are ready, ‚return‘ to the room: slowly open your eyes, wiggle your hands and feet, stretch your arms and legs and slowly and ergonomically get up.
Whatever breath technique you choose to try, set aside a time and space free of distractions, and give yourself permission to focus only on the breath. Keep the belly soft, and the mouth, jaw and shoulders relaxed. Don’t become discouraged if at first it seems hard to focus only on the breath and the mind begins to wander. Simply notice the meandering thoughts and gently bring your mind back to the breath. It can be difficult for those of us with hectic schedules to make ourselves sit and do “nothing” when there is so much to be done and time is so valuable. But know that in doing so, you are giving yourself and your baby a precious gift.
Do you have anything to add about breathing techniques? Please comment below!