Breathing in Labor
What about breathing during the contractions? As mentioned earlier, you will learn no altered-breathing states in the Bradley Method.® You have been breathing all your life, and by now you are quite good at it. It is important for both the laboring woman and her baby that her breathing be calm, steady, and normal. All you need to learn is how to observe your breathing, so that if it becomes too fast or irregular you can deliberately return it to a calm, steady rhythm. Remember, normal breathing is a reflection of good relaxation, and relaxation is the real key to a successful labor.
Let's return to that poor, untrained mother for a moment. Does she breathe normally during labor? No. Instead she may breathe in three common patterns: sometimes she panics and breathes in a rapid pant (this is actually quite dangerous since it can cause hyperventilation); or she may breathe in irregular gasps; or she may simply stop breathing during a contraction and hold her breath.
All these ways of mishandling breathing spell panic, tension, and discomfort for the mother. The laboring woman needs to keep her breathing simple and normal since her primary aim is complete, skillful relaxation. To insure that relaxation, the laboring woman should use abdominal breathing, which simply means putting calm, steady breaths deep and low into the abdomen. Therapists in various fields use calm, abdominal breathing to relax ex-
cited patients, from asthmatics to the emotionally upset.
The key to abdominal breathing is just to listen to the quiet, regular rhythm of your breathing. Think of putting your breath low in the abdomen with an extremely relaxed abdominal wall. The abdomen will naturally expand outward with low abdominal breathing, so you do not need to push the abdomen out or try to hold it there. If you are listening within your body to the calm, quiet, steady rhythm of your breathing, it is impossible to breathe too quickly. If you are concentrating on putting the breath low in the abdomen, it is easy to avoid the chest breathing that can quickly lead to hyperventilation.
Here is the way to check this simple, natural breathing. The coach should sit on the floor with his back to the wall, forming a contour chair for the pregnant woman, who sits between his legs. A thin pillow between the two of you should make this position more comfortable. Reaching around her body, the coach should put his hands on the woman's abdomen, just about at the top of the pubic hair line. Now, the pregnant woman should try abdominal breathing. There will be some movement in the chest, of course, but the real action in this kind of breathing will be felt down low in the abdomen. Do not tense the abdominal wall or try to push it out; simply put the breath way down low, and the abdomen will expand out and away naturally, and the coach will feel the abdomen rise gently beneath his hand.
There are four main points to coaching the breathing during a contraction. Read them aloud twice and then close the book to make sure you have the four points and can express them in your own words.
MASTER EXERCISE I
First-Stage Contractions: Breathing and Relaxation
(A contraction begins. You feel it starting to work. Your uterus flexes for you, a little more, and just a little bit more, until you get a good, strong, pulling, stretching sensation around the cervix to open that door.)
Breathe with a steady, even rhythm. Not in the mid
dle of your tummy, but way down low. Listen to the
quiet ease of your abdominal breathing
Concentrate on relaxing your tummy extremely.
Think of it just floating outward and away from you
as you breathe in.
Drop your head into the pillow. Think about it. Don't
hold your head up with your neck muscles. Just let it
drop down into the pillow.
Smooth your eyelids, and concentrate on all those
facial muscles being loose and slack. Smooth your
brow. Let your eyes rest. Let all the tension go from
your face. Loosen your jaw and let it sag open. Have
a relaxed, open throat. Don't try to swallow.
Drop your shoulders. Have no tension in them at all.
Relax your back and let your tummy relax completely, floating out and away from you. You can al
ways relax your tummy a little bit more. There is
always some leftover tension to ease away.
Еach time you exhale, you let go a little more. Let your whole body sag and relax and get out of the way so that big bag of muscles can open the door for the baby.
Locate any tension that is left in your shoulders and your arms and let go of it so it eases out through your hands. Let your hands be limp and let your fingers be loose and limp. Everything just sinks down into the pillows and the mattress.
When you feel that muscle flexing you think your way through the contraction. The whole body is relaxing to let the uterus do its work.
Let go of any strain or tension in your chest. Drop your whole body into that bed. Let go. Release everywhere. Relax your tummy extremely. Concentrate on letting go and letting it float out and away from you. Keep your breathing very calm and quiet and steady and way down low in the bottom of your belly.
Think, drop into the bed, and really let go. Don't just hold yourself still. Keep loose and limp, and let your PC muscle relax completely. Let your vaginal barrel be open.
Let go as if your life depended on it. Breathe at a
nice, normal pace. Observe your body. Look for any
tension and skillfully let it go so it just eases out of
your body. You can always let go just a little more.
Think, observe, release.
Let your hips be slack and sink down into the bed.
Let go of any tension in your thighs. Let it all go out
through your legs and feet. Your legs are loose and
easy now. Your feet are loose and limp as well.
That's it. You are doing great. Don't stop thinking
about relaxing now. You think your way up and over
a contraction. That's what you are practicing right
now. Concentration. Don't let your mind stray to
other things. Keep thinking about relaxation. Look
for any tension and deliberately release it away.
Sag, go loose and limp.
Think of your uterus as that big bag of muscles that
is opening the door for your baby. It is just a bag of
muscles flexing. The more it flexes the more you relax
with it. Stay out of the way with your body. Don't get
in the way. The more you relax the better those
muscles work. Think of your baby's head pressing on
the cervix as you let go and open, AND OPEN. Let the
vaginal barrel be relaxed and open.
Breathe with a nice, quiet, steady rhythm. Listen to
the sound of it, way down low in the bottom of your
belly. You can always relax a little more and a bit
more. Never be satisfied. Keep thinking. Breathe
and sag. Picture what is happening inside you. The
bag of muscles flexes to open the door for the
Think your way up and over a contraction. (And the
contraction peaks and ebbs away to the end.)
Practice this Master Exercise every night until it becomes automatic.