Breathing in Birth: Can Yoga Help?


"Breathe". "Breathe", they say, followed by "hoo-hoo-hee, hoo-hoo-hee". If that sound comes to mind, then you are probably familiar with Lamaze. Or, at least, you are familiar with 1980's Lamaze. While their methods may have updated, one of their core tenets, that breathing in labor is important, still remains. Would it shock you to know that yogis have known for ages, that the breath is literally vital? Yoga, we can agree, is vastly different than Lamaze, but both know that the breath is at the core of life, including bringing life into this world.

Breathing in yoga, also called pranayama, is at the foundation of a practice.  Breathing in birth is at the foundation to coping and moving things along.  This is one of the reasons that adopting a prenatal yoga practice is crucial for pregnant people as part of their preparation for birth. In any yoga class, you will practice different pranayama techniques. However, modifications in prenatal yoga make the entire practice specific to your changing needs.  It is necessary to attend a class that grounds breathing instruction with a clear purpose and goal which is...birth. Prenatal yoga isn't just concerned with changing poses. It's an entire practice built for every aspect of pregnancy. This includes preparing the body, breath, mind, and spirit. Maybe a yoga class would have helped her remember to breathe?

Now that you know that breathing is integral to birth, where does one learn the various techniques and how to use them? In a prenatal yoga class of course! Below you will find some very basic terms and snippets about how to use them in labor, but learning and practicing them in person is a real treat.

  1. Three-part breath. This technique starts by placing one hand on the belly and the other on the chest. Visualize the air starting at the base of the belly as your stomach fills, then your chest, then your face. Each part should expand and rise a little. Because this takes focus and is often used in centering, this technique can be used when you are in early labor. If you are still able to talk through contractions, now is a good time to employ 3 part breath.

  2. Ujayii. This technique is loudish, but effective. I call it "Darth Vader" breath because it sounds like him as he breathes in his mask. It's also the most similar to the typical Lamaze breath. Basically, you act as if you were to fog a mirror. This is achieved by drawing air toward the back of the throat. The challenge is to keep your lips softly closed. This is most suitable for active labor. When you are feeling the heat and intensity of contractions, use this breath.

  3. Bunny breath. This technique is fast and refreshing.  Quickly, draw in two short breaths through the nose, followed by a third, longer breath. Repeat as comfortable. This is an excellent breathing technique to use during transition. It can even be tweaked so that the exhale is released through the mouth as you breathe!

Breathing is critical. After all, if we stop breathing, we can't function. Especially during birth, we need to remain conscious of our breath. However, that can be really hard when you are pushing out a baby! Preparing for birth and practicing different breathing exercises in prenatal yoga is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby.

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments!