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Why is breathing important in pregnancy and birth?

‘Focusing on your breathing requires you to concentrate. Focused breathing means that your thought process is directed away from any discomfort you may be feeling.’ – HSE article on breathing and self help techniques in labour. Click here for the article.

No one wants to say that birth is painful these days.

And they are right because once you put the idea in your head it’s hard to get rid of it. But it’s hard not to come to that conclusion. How do you block out the images, videos and TV programmes with women lying on their backs, legs in stirrups, purple in the face showing that they are ‘in pain’?

It’s important to acknowledge that birth is hard work.

Women feel a lot of pressure as the womb contracts and baby engages and descends down the birth canal to be born. Women have described it as primal, animalistic, and feeling as if they were having an out of body experience.

Most women experience more than just discomfort… so how do you get the balance right to communicate what you might experience?

It’s important to inform yourself as much as is possible.

You are probably working and pregnant and juggling lots which is exhausting. So without overwhelming yourself, be informed about what kind of birth you want. Who do you want to support you? Would you like a natural birth? Who should be your care-giver? A midwife? Would you prefer an obstetrician? Do you want to give birth at home or in the hospital? You don’t have to do whatever your Mum did or your friends. If this is your second baby, you don’t have to do what you did before.

It is a good idea to have a plan or birth wishes as long as you don’t laminate it.

Whatever you decide and want as your ideal birth it may turn on its head. Inform yourself as much as possible but be open to change.

As many of you know I birthed my baby in an elective caesarean. (I hate that term as it wasn’t something I had elected even though I did because or Síofra’s position). I subsequently struggled with it for a long time. I had prepared for a natural birth. I had read all about Hypnobirthing. I had done pregnancy yoga and pilates. All my friends kept kindly telling me to take all the drugs and I smiled and nodded and thought I’m going to do my best to use my body to birth this baby.

But my daughter was in a breech position and no amount of attempts to move her worked.

I felt that all my choices had been taken away. But still as I sat in the day ward, fasting and waiting from 9am until 4pm when she was born I had to use my yoga breathing to focus and stay calm. As I was given the epidural I had to connect to my breath and be still. So I still used some of the techniques from my classes.

Breathing in Pregnancy and Birth helps to you to focus. Why is it so important?

It can form part of a meditative practise. Meditation can help you cope with a variety of physical and emotional stresses during pregnancy. It can help you to relax and focus your concentration, reduce stress, lower your blood pressure and enhance your peace of mind. It can also be useful in treating mild to moderate anxiety or depression during pregnancy.

Like any habit that you are trying to form, in order for it to work for you, it needs practise.

Imagine yourself at work. Doing something that you do every day, when something stressful happens. You panic. Your breath shortens, you feel really stressed. Your blood pressure increases. You can’t think straight. This is because in panic your sympathetic nervous system is preparing your body for fight or flight. But because you’re familiar with your working situation and can rely on your experience you calm yourself and when calm you can handle your situation.

But how did you calm yourself?

  • Did you take a few deep breaths?
  • Walk away from the situation?
  • Distract yourself and then come up with a solution?

One thing is certain. You can’t think straight when your body is full of adrenaline because all your blood has gone to your skeletal muscles ready to run or fight. But when you found your way around this and calmed down then you could think again.

Most women give birth only a handful of times during their life. So it’s more difficult to rely on past experience to reassure yourself. But you can inform yourself. You can assure yourself that your body is able to manage birthing your baby. You can use Oxytocin and its benefits to act as your natural pain relief. There are many ways that you can practise creating the hormone and holding on to it. And there are ways to keep adrenaline at bay.

Why is it important to keep the hormone Adrenaline at bay during the first stage of labour?

If adrenaline helps you to run from the Tiger then it should be great for mobilising my body to give birth. This is right in the second stage of labour when you need adrenaline to help you to birth baby. But in the first stage of labour you need to make sure that you keep calm and hold on to Oxytocin and build natural pain relief from endorphines. Why?

  • Fear can increase our levels of adrenaline
  • Being overly monitored can increase adrenaline and take away our attention on what is important to you.
  • Higher levels of the adrenaline hormone will send blood to your skeletal muscles to ready for fight or flight
  • The Uterus needs this blood to help the uterine walls to contract effectively. This action is not as effective when there is a surge of adrenaline
  • So if you are prepared and reassure yourself that you can manage the pressure and speed of your surges or contractions then you can hold on to Oxytocin

Oxytocin is the hormone of love. So how do you recreate it?

  • Create an environment that you feel comfortable in.
  • Play your favourite music.
  • Dim the lights (Oxytocin loves the dark)
  • Eat your favourite food
  • Have a bath
  • Use massage
  • Have sex

This is a great Instagram account that focuses on how to hold on to Oxytocin.


What happens when I have to leave home and go to hospital?

Sometimes labour can slow down when we leave our comfortable and familiar environment. At home you have full control over your surroundings whereas you may not feel the same level of comfort in hospital.

Thinking about this beforehand can help. Attending the hospital’s antenatal classes so that you can visit the delivery ward and talk to a midwife before you give birth can help you to figure out what you can do in that space to help you to relax. Seeing the birthing suite can help so that you can talk about the things that you want to use in the room. For example, do you need to bring your own birthing ball?

Many women get to hospital and totally forget their breathing practise, and feel overwhelmed.

That’s why a regular practise of yoga or meditation can help. I often say that getting out of your head and into your body can help. It brings yourself back in touch with your body to calm down and focus. That’s why after our breathing exercise in class we often practise some simple warm up exercises, such as shoulder rolls or wrist rolls. You could do them anywhere and they can help bring you back into the moment.

I know that it’s a completely different situation… but have you noticed that a kicker, like Johny Sexton, has a routine before he kicks a penalty? We also need a routine so that we can forget our doubts and fears and focus on letting our body birth our baby.

There are lots of ways to hold onto Oxytocin.

  • Hold on to that cocoon, by wearing dark glasses and a light scarf.
  • Allocate roles – For example, get your partner to answer any questions that you don’t need to. Or put your partner in charge of having your music ready.
  • Record a meditation or belly breathing script on to your phone to listen to.
  • Dance and move to your favourite music in between surges
  • Use your partner or the wall as a prop and practise hip circles to spiral baby down
  • Walk, ask that you not be overly monitored so that you can focus on moving through your surges.
  • Keep your energy up by eatings snacks and keeping hydrated
  • Use water, baths, showers
  • Massage and reassurance from your partner.
  • Breathing practise – belly breathing, sitali (cooling breath).

Why is that important?

The natural hormone, Oxytocin stimulates powerful contractions that help to thin and open (dilate) the cervix, move the baby down and out of the birth canal, push out the placenta, and limit bleeding at the site of the placenta. It’s not the same as the synthetic version Syntocinon. I recommend that you research the differences.

What other hormones naturally occur and help in childbirth?

Endorphins are naturally occurring opiates, similar to morphine and heroin. Like oxytocin, they mostly appear during sex, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Beta-endorphins reduce pain and suppress the immune system, which is important so that it doesn’t act ‘against’ your baby.

If you’re stressed during labour, that can make you release excessive beta-endorphins, which may inhibit oxytocin and slow things down. That’s why keeping things as calm as possible is a great thing in labour.

How to keep calm during labour?

It all comes back to the breath. You need to believe that your body is capable of both the amazing and the mundane. It knows how to give birth. It helps if you can tell yourself and believe:

  • I expect to feel pressure during labour.
  • I believe that my body is able to work through the surges.
  • I can use my mind to distract ourselves when we’re feeling under pressure.
  • I rest between surges or contractions.
  • I can focus and stay calm during surges by breathing evenly.

How to build a practise of breathing for birth?

Try out lots of different breathing techniques until you find what works for you:

  • Counting breath
  • Belly Breathing
  • Box breathing (using your fingers to trace your in and out breath)
  • Sitali breathing (cooling breath)

If you practise yoga weekly it can help you to try out different kinds of methods until you find one that works for you. It can also help you to breathe through discomfort, to keep breathing in poses that you need to hold so that you can strengthen your body and get ready to give birth.

If you would like to join my prenatal yoga class please visit www.enchantedyoga/schedule

For more information about birth here are some articles:

Dr Sarah Buckley is a GP who specialises in pregnancy and birth. She encourages us to be fully informed in our decision-making; to listen to our hearts and our intuition; and to claim our rightful role as the real experts in our bodies and our children.

Dr Sara Wickham PhD, RM, MA, PGCert, BA(Hons) is a midwife, speaker, bestselling author and researcher who works independently.


Michel Odent – is a French obstetrician and childbirth specialist. He believed that childbirth had become too medicalised and he wanted a more natural approach. He introduced a pool to ease the pain of labour and eventually some babies were even born in the pool.


Ina May Gaskin – is an American midwife who has been described as “the mother of authentic midwifery.” She helped found the self-sustaining community, The Farm, with her husband Stephen Gaskin in 1971 where she markedly launched her career in midwifery. 


Her book Guide to Childbirth is over 17 years old but well worth reading to find out more about natural child-birth.

To further your meditation practise, an interesting and really magical voice to listen to is David J. This is his website:

Click here

Look after yourself. You are growing a human being and that is amazing.

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