Labor Breathing

In order to understand how important proper labor breathing is, it’s first good to understand a little bit more of the physiology going on behind a labor contraction.  The middle layer of the uterus, the myometrium, has three layers of muscle fiber: inner, outer, and the middle layer.

Here’s a neat picture of the uterus itself (check it out; it’s 3-D! and rotates!).

Teresa describes what happens with the inner and outer layers of muscle of the uterus during a contraction.  Again I am going to just quote her so I don’t have to reinvent the wheel here.  She uses the term “pulsation” instead of the more well-known term, contraction.

For many people, the term contraction suggests a “one way” or perhaps even a quick “constrictive” type of event which is not at all what is happening.  The muscle interaction during pulsation is a two-way process such that the vertical muscles shorten or “draw up” while the horizontal muscles relax open (pulsing upward) and then the vertical muscles relax again (pulsing down) to allow a rest period before beginning the next pulsation (pages 16-17).

The point that I want you to get out of this is that the layers of the uterus are working together to help labor progress.  Fear and tension will get in the way of this muscle interaction so that is why it is so important to stay relaxed.

Now, on to the Labor Breathing technique (page 46):

As you inhale through your nose and with your mouth closed, inhale as slowly as you can until you can no longer comfortably take in any more air.  Your belly must expand before your chest does just like the two previous breathing techniques.  As soon as you have inhaled all that you can, immediately exhale with your mouth closed, but again as slowly as you possibly can.  There is a technique taught to me by a yoga instructor that you can use to help slow down your exhalation.

Imagine that you are holding a pair of eye glasses in your hands and your intent is to clean them by exhaling your warm breath on the lens surface before wiping them clean.  In other words, to exhale your warm breath on the glass, you would haaaah, haaaaah, your breath on the lens before wiping them clean. The exhale in this technique will be the same type of haaaaaah motion with your breath but with your mouth closed.  Exhaling in this manner will create a consistent sound in the back of your throat for as long as you are exhaling.  The louder the sound produced, the slower you will be able to exhale.  Your goal is to practice inhaling and exhaling more slowly each time.


Practice this technique whenever you have a Braxton Hicks contraction.  If you are not having Braxton Hicks contractions, find a quiet time to relax and stretch each day and practice breathing.  When I went into labor with my third, I used this technique with every single contraction that I had.  It had become a habit for me so that I didn’t even have to think about it.  I could not tell you when the “practice” contractions turned into “real” ones.  In fact, the contractions seemed “far apart” and I never thought to time them, not realizing how far along I was.  This breathing technique really works and I highly recommend practicing this breathing for labor.

I believe the reason my contractions never got overwhelming or “hard and fast” like I remember in previous birth experiences is that the labor breathing maximized the efficiency of each contraction.  They didn’t need to come as often because being relaxed allowed each one to do its job effectively.

May God give you His perfect shalom as you breathe down your baby.

Cleansing Breath

Relaxation Breathing

Labor Breathing

Pushing (Birth Breathing)


Van-Zeller, Teresa L. (2011). Birthing As Nature Intended (B.A.N.I.). Trafford Publishing.