Embodied Presence and Breathing During Delivery

If you’ve read about my birth affirmations and the meditation I did to prepare for labor then you know that breathing was a big part of my birth preparation.  It seemed counterintuitive to me then to let someone else tell me how to breathe during the penultimate moment of delivery.

While I was pregnant I was part of a year-long leadership development program with NASA.  One of the speakers we had was Wendy Palmer.  She is an amazing and dynamic person and her practical workshop was the type where you wonder “how is this helping me?” and then you can’t get it out of your mind for…well, years.  Her book The Intuitive Body talks about using the non-aggressive Japanese martial art aikido and meditation to cultivate awareness, attention, and self-acceptance.  Part of the practice is breathing and I used her technique when I was in the pushing phase of labor.

Here is my adaptation of Wendy’s breathing technique.  If you want to learn more I really recommend her book.

  1. Develop a positive intention.  This is usually one word that focuses on what you want to happen instead of what you DON’T want to happen.  I used “peace baby.”  That might seem like a weird word to use during labor but I didn’t want to get caught up in the anxiety or even the excitement spiral.  I wanted to stay above the hub bub of what was going on around me and focus on the magical moment that was happening between myself and my baby.
  2. Inhale fully through your nose when you feel the urge to push.
  3. Exhale slowly through your mouth while holding your intention word in your head.
  4. Imagine the breathe spiraling from the top of your skull down through your feet, releasing as it goes down.  Releasing all the tension and bringing your intention word to fruition.  As a relaxation technique this sprial releases tension or anxiety.  In labor I used the spiral to imagine the power of my push helping my baby along the birth canal.
A few important points.  First, I directed my pushing NOT a nurse.  I was on my back and numb from the waist down with an epidural (not ideal, obviously, but I had some complications and it was the right choice for me).  I was on my back.  I was attached to a monitor.  When I first began to push my midwife was not there but another nurse.  She was looking at the monitor and told me when to push and then encouraged me to hold my breath while she counted to ten loudly.  I asked her to stop!  I didn’t want to have an unnatural breath.  Luckily my midwife got there quickly and I had talked this all out with her (and it was in my birth plan as well).  I was fortunate to be able to feel my contractions (not always possible with an epidural) and asked them to detach the monitor and let me guide.
Second, this breathing should feel natural.  If breathing through your nose and exhaling through your mouth feels artificial then it won’t be helping you realize your intention.  However, if you practice breathing through your pregnancy then it will come naturally during labor.
I did breath cycles approximately 3 times during each contraction.  Aellyn was born within 30 minutes of pushing and I caught her.  It was magical, beautiful, peaceful.


This post is part of the 5th Healthy Birth Carnival at Science and Sensibility.  Visit the Carnival for more great posts about the 5th Lamaze Healthy Birth Practice:  Avoid giving birth on your back and follow your body’s urges to push.

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6 thoughts on “Embodied Presence and Breathing During Delivery

  1. This is beautiful Paige. I didn’t know you could feel contractions with an epidural. Even if it’s rate I think that you mention this here will give a lot of women hope that even if under an epidural they can still guides their own pushes if they want to. I love the painting too!

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  2. @melodie – isn’t that painting gorgeous? I want a print! I definitely felt the building pressure of my contractions. I think I got a really good anesthesiologist and really had a *good* epidural experience so it does happen.

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  3. When I was at the pushing stage, Tom commented that I sounded like Louis Armstrong. I was making low, throaty noises. My birth coach and someone else (the memory is hazy) kept telling me to calm down – but I felt *good* making those noises. Thankfully my midwife spoke up and told them I was doing just fine 😉
    During contractions toward the end, I probably could have breathed better. I was tired and on my way to panic (long, long back labor and whispers of a hospital transfer).
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that if/when there is a next time, I will be more prepared.

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  4. When I was at the pushing stage, Tom commented that I sounded like Louis Armstrong. I was making low, throaty noises. My birth coach and someone else (the memory is hazy) kept telling me to calm down – but I felt *good* making those noises. Thankfully my midwife spoke up and told them I was doing just fine ;)During contractions toward the end, I probably could have breathed better. I was tired and on my way to panic (long, long back labor and whispers of a hospital transfer).I'm keeping my fingers crossed that if/when there is a next time, I will be more prepared.

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  5. @dionna – there should be a law about people telling a laboring woman what to do! lol. Have you seen the movie Knocked Up? The (male) nurse tells her to quiet down. I about died!

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  6. Pingback: Weekly Reads: Challenge Your Perception of Birth — Giving Birth with Confidence

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