Types of Delivery Breathing Techniques

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on April 23, 2023
4 min read

Becoming a parent is a life-changing event. You’ve bought the crib, decorated the room, and gotten enough onesies for a lifetime in preparation for your new arrival. But before you start counting those itty bitty 10 fingers and toes, you have to get through the most challenging part of pregnancy: giving birth. 

Relaxation and proper breathing during labor will help you a lot in the birthing process. Breathing steadily during labor increases the mother’s focus and brings much-needed oxygen to her and the baby. Certain breathing techniques have also been shown to reduce tearing during childbirth. 

The method of breathing you’ll need to use will change throughout the different stages of labor. You can use the following two techniques during the first stage — when you start having regular contractions and your cervix is dilating: 

Organizing breath. Take a deep, cleansing breath before and after every contraction. Inhale deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. This will help you to stay centered and process everything that’s happening. Breathing like this can also signal to others in the delivery room that a contraction is beginning or ending. An organizing breath at the end of a contraction also gives your baby an extra boost of oxygen.

Slow breathing. When you’re not able to talk through a contraction, it’s time to start slow breathing. 

  • Take an organizing breath, preparing yourself for the contraction.
  • Breathe slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Find a focal point and focus on it through the contraction. 
  • Try to relax a different part of your body with every exhale.

Light, accelerated breathing. This is done in the active stages of labor. You can start using this technique when the contractions get more intense. 

  • Begin by taking an organizing breath. Release all tension with your exhale. 
  • Find a focal point or something to focus on, and prepare mentally for the contraction. 
  • As the intensity increases, lighten your breathing by taking shallow breaths at the rate of one breath per second. Try to relax your neck and shoulders as much as possible. 
  • Now, start breathing lightly through your mouth. Your breathing rate should increase along with the intensity of the contraction. 
  • As the contraction ends, take a final organizing breath. 

Variable breathing. This is mostly used when you’re transitioning to the second stage of labor — when the baby is delivered. It can also be used in the first stage of labor if you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. This technique is unmistakable for its sounds of “hee-hee-hoo” — or “pant-pant-blow”. 

  • Take an organizing breath when you feel the contraction coming on. 
  • Find a focus point or other distraction, or focus with your birthing coach or partner. 
  • Take light, shallow breaths through your mouth at the rate of 5–20 breaths every 10 seconds. 
  • Try to blow a longer, more pronounced exhale every fourth or fifth breath. 
  • Regroup as the contraction ends with a long organizing breath. 

Expulsive breathing. The second, most intense stage of labor calls for expulsive breathing. You should only use expulsive breathing when your cervix is fully dilated, otherwise it could cause tearing or other damage. 

  • Take an organizing breath and try to visualize the baby moving through the birth canal.
  • Speed up your breaths as necessary, letting the contraction guide your breathing. 
  • When you have an overwhelming urge to push, bear down while tucking your chin into your chest. Curl your body forward and hold your breath while you push, and slowly exhale. 
  • End with a long, calming breath.

Pain and labor often go hand-in-hand. But there are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable during what can be an exciting and, let’s face it, painful time. These tips will help give you some relief during labor: 

  • Stay at home as long as possible. Staying in a familiar, comfortable environment will help you relax in the first stages of labor. Stay home until your contractions are three to five minutes apart and last for one minute. 
  • Take a hot shower. Warm water promotes relaxation. Try taking a nice hot shower in the first stages of labor. If you’re already in the hospital, ask for a birthing pool. Soaking in warm water helps your muscles relax, relieves pressure, and could help you dilate faster. 
  • Use a hot or cold pack. Applying a hot water bottle or cold pack to your lower back and other achy or stiff areas can help the muscles relax. 
  • Move around. Moving around can help speed up the labor process. Walk around, stretch, or walk up and down the stairs to help relieve discomfort.
  • Think positively. Focus on the task at hand. Think positively about the reason you’re there. Your baby coming into the world is a wonderful and emotional process. Absorb the moment and prepare to welcome your new baby into the world.