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Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

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Preparing for labor: Breathing to relax

Finding your relaxing breath

Slow breathing can help you relax. For many people, breathing deeply is the most relaxing. If you are not sure what level of breathing is most relaxing for you, try this:

  • First, put your hands underneath your baby. Imagine filling your hands with your breath. Think about breathing down to the level of your hands. You should feel your hands move. Take your time. Let the air flow in. Don’t force your breath. Breathe at this level for a minute or two. How does it feel?
  • Second, move your hands to above your baby so they rest on top of your belly. Bring your breath to this level. Your hands should move a little with each breath. Breathe at this level for a minute or two. How does this feel? If neither level feels comfortable, your most relaxing breath may lie between those two levels.
  • Third, move your hands to the level where your breath seems most relaxing. Breathe at this level for a minute or so. The next time you want to use relaxing breathing, go directly to this level.

Using your relaxing breathing in labor

You can use relaxing breathing in several ways when you are in labor.

Graph showing waves of relaxing breathing through a contraction.

  • At the beginning of a contraction: Take a relaxing breath when you feel a contraction begin. It can help you focus your attention on coping with that contraction. It also signals others that a contraction has begun and you need attention and support.
  • During a contraction: Use your relaxing breathing during a contraction. You can stay relaxed by focusing on keeping your breathing even and easy.
  • At the end of a contraction: End each contraction with a relaxing breath. Use it as a signal to let go of any tension from the contraction. It is the signal to relax and rest until the next contraction. It’s also a signal to others that the contraction is over.
  • Between contractions: You can use relaxing breathing between contractions to help you stay relaxed. Early in labor you may not need to do this. However, when labor is intense and the contractions are close together, you may want to.


Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, sixth edition, preg-ahc-90026, ISBN 1-931876-25-8

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 08/22/2011

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts