A very pregnant Jessica Simpson appeared on Monday night’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. During her interview, Jessica covered the basic details of her pregnancy, including the surprise of Braxton Hicks contractions, and her relationship with dad-to-be. She also answered questions on her preparation for birth. When asked whether she would be attending a Lamaze class, Simpson replied no — that women in Lamaze classes “get so out of breath.”
While Simpson was likely playing up her signature ditsy humor, she touched on a commonly misunderstood element of Lamaze: breathing. Simpson remarked that women need energy to push and that being “breathless” or “seeing stars” would not be helpful. She’s right — hyperventilating and breathing without focus can be counterproductive to labor and pushing. It depletes a woman’s energy and can raise her adrenaline level, causing exhaustion and anxiety.
Today’s Lamaze classes focus on all elements that make up a healthy, safe birth. Breathing is just one the many suggestions offered to provide focus and increase comfort during labor and birth. The following, excerpted from The Official Lamaze Guide: Giving Birth with Confidence by Judith A. Lothian and Charlotte DeVries, provides an overview of breathing during labor and birth:
Conscious breathing (especially slow breathing) reduces heart rate, anxiety, and pain perception. It works in part because when breathing becomes a focus, other sensations (such as labor pain) move to the edge of your awareness.
Conscious breathing is an especially useful labor tool because it not only keeps you and your baby well oxygenated, it’s also easy to learn and use. It’s naturally rhythmic and easy to incorporate into a ritual. And best of all, breathing is the one coping strategy that can’t be taken away from you—even if you’re stuck in bed attached to an electronic fetal monitor and intravenous fluids.
Conscious (or patterned) breathing used to be the hallmark of Lamaze childbirth education. For many women, it’s still an important way to stay relaxed and stay on top of their contractions. It’s true that conscious breathing can help you relax and feel less pain during contractions. There’s no “right” way to breathe in labor, despite what others may tell you. Slow, deep breathing helps most women manage the pain of contractions. But the right way for you to breathe is whatever feels right to you. Issues like your number of breaths per minute, breathing through your nose or your mouth, or making sounds (like hee-hee) with your breaths are only important if they make a difference for you.
That last part — “….are only important if they make a difference for you” — is so key. Quality birth preparation, like Lamaze classes, should provide you with several tools in your tool box to be able to choose the best one for the job when the time comes. Labor and birth is such an “in the moment” experience – you simply cannot predict exactly how you will react until you’re there.
It may help you to have a visual focus to accompany your conscious breathing. You can recall an image with your eyes closed, focus on a picture or special object from home, keep your eyes on your partner, or simply stare at a spot on the wall. You may also find that as labor progresses, faster, shallower breathing—like a dog gently panting—feels better. You’ll figure out what works best for you. And what works best will probably change as you move through labor.
Many women “practice” breathing during pregnancy by using conscious breathing when everyday life presents stressful situations, like being caught in traffic, running late for an important meeting, or worrying about any number of things.
Find Your Rhythm
At some point in labor, you’ll “find your rhythm” or “get in a groove,” much like a marathon runner does. You’ll be living in the moment, doing without thinking. To others you’ll appear to be in another world. Your movements will be rhythmic; you’ll relax between contractions; you’ll respond to contractions in the same way over and over again, perhaps shaking your arms, rolling your head, breathing slowly, chanting, or praying.
You’ll be totally focused, but you won’t necessarily look comfortable. You’ll look like you’re working very, very hard—which you are. When this happens, you’ll know endorphins are working their magic—dulling your pain and helping you ride your contractions intuitively. You’ll be doing exactly what you need to do. You won’t need to be rescued; in fact, the worst thing that could happen to you at this point is to be disturbed or interrupted. A healthy dose of encouragement, support, and respect are all you’ll need from your support team.
Simpson commented to Leno, “it’s all about being calm [in labor]” — and in a sense, she’s right. Being “calm,” in the way that one feels confident in her ability to birth and in the support from those around her, is key to a positive birth experience. Whether a woman finds her calm through breathing, labor support, meditation techniques, back massage, or laboring in water is inconsequential; that she has access to such tools when she needs them is indispensable.