Breathing Techniques for Labor

A pregnant woman in the hospital delivery room

Breathing techniques for the first stages of labor

Why the breathing works:

Your brain will respond to the strongest stimuli it receives. If you are having a contraction, the main impulse to the brain is pain. If, however, the brain is receiving other strong stimuli (controlled relaxation, concentration, breathing), it will be distracted and your perception of the pain during the contraction will be greatly decreased. Rhythmic Breathing promotes relaxation by reducing muscle tension and anxiety. The breathing techniques also provide a distraction for the woman to focus on other than the discomfort of the contraction.

The Cleansing Breath

  • Done at the beginning and end of every contraction
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose then exhale through your mouth
  • Serves as a signal for mom to relax and focus
  • Lets partner know when contraction has begun and ended

Slow Relaxed Breathing

  • Inhale slowly through your nose; let your belly expand first, then your chest
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, with your lips pursed
  • Breathing should be slow and relaxed, about 8-10 per minute
  • Keep a good rhythm, and concentrate on a focal point, with eyes open
  • Rate should be about 1 inhale and 1 exhale every 8 seconds
  • This is the easiest breathing technique and requires the least amount of energy; USE IT AS LONG AS POSSIBLE!

Pant-Blow Breathing (Hee-Puff Technique)

  • To be used during transition phase of labor, when contractions much stronger
  • Requires mom to focus her concentration on breathing; rather than on the intensity of contractions
  • Aids in controlling the urge to push when not fully dilated
  • Combine panting (“hee”) with regularly occurring “blows” (“puffs”)
  • Blows usually occur after every 3 pants, but fewer or more “hees’ can be used if necessary
  • If a desire to push is felt during a contraction, just “blow” during that time, then return to the pattern
  • Remember to begin and end each contraction with a cleansing breath


  • Occurs when there is an imbalance of oxygen and carbon dioxide
  • Symptoms:
    • numbness and tingling of lips, fingers
    • lips or fingernails turn blue
    • dizziness
  • Treatment:
    • hold your breath between contractions (with ending cleansing breath)
    • cup your hands over your face and breathe into them
    • breathe into a paper bag

Voluntary expulsive efforts during second stage of labor

What happens:

Uterine contractions during labor will cause the cervix to dilate and the baby to descend somewhat into the vaginal canal. These forces are usually not enough to push the baby out (unless one has given birth previously, or has very small infant). The mother must aid the contractions with her own voluntary expulsive efforts.

The lungs are filled with air, with the chest tilted forward and shoulders slightly rounded, and the abdominal muscles are powerfully contracted to exert pressure.

Pelvic floor muscles (perineal and anal muscles) must remain relaxed during pushing. There is a tendency to tighten these muscles, so you must teach yourself control of these muscle groups by doing Kegel Exercises.

Helpful Hints

  • It helps to think in the direction you are pushing, i.e. “down” or “out”
  • Don’t hurry when beginning to push; let the contraction reach a peak, then push with it
  • The longer you can push, the more progress the baby will make down the birth canal
  • Relax thighs, rectum, vagina!
  • Partners: help hold her legs, or support her shoulders, give encouragement and praise

Do not practice pushing at home or in labor until instructed to do so!

Accepted Insurances

May-Grant Obstetrics & Gynecology participates with the following insurances. Please note that office copays are due at the time of service and any co-insurances are the responsibility of the patient. Please check with your carrier or call our office at 717-397-8177 for an updated menu of insurance options.

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