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Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth & Beyond

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Relaxation techniques

Stress can cause you to feel tired, anxious and achy. It can also create eating problems. If you can deal well with stress, you can improve your physical and emotional health. Effective relaxation techniques can reduce stress.

practice relaxation techniques will sitting in a chair

However, if you're under so much stress it is affecting your health, relationships, or sense of well-being, talk with your health care provider.

You can start practicing relaxation as part of your preparation for parenthood. Relaxation techniques can help you during pregnancy and labor as well as after your baby is born. During labor they will help you save energy and work with your body rather than fight the contractions.

Begin by thinking about what you do now to help yourself relax. Do you listen to music? Curl up in a favorite chair? Use a technique from yoga or sports? You will be able tobuild on your relaxation method and use it in labor and after your baby is born.

Approaches to relaxation

There are two main ways to relax. When you relax from the inside out, you focus on calming your mind and emotions. This leads to a sense of well-being that causes your muscles to relax. When you relax from the outside in, you consciously relax your muscles. Releasing the tension from your muscles makes you feel relaxed and comfortable.

Most people use a combination of techniques. Try some of the suggestions below until you have a technique you like.

Relaxing from the inside out

You can use imagery, meditation, chanting or prayer to get yourself to a state of relaxation. Some people find it helpful to add soft music, a pleasant scent, or a favorite picture. You can also focus on keeping your breathing slow and easy.

  • Imagery
  • If imagery is a new technique for you, try this:

    • Sit comfortably in a chair and close your eyes.
    • Imagine your favorite place.
    • Pay attention to the sounds, colors, scents, and textures.
    • Linger in this place for a few minutes and enjoy your sense of peace and comfort.

    Next time, add music or whatever would help you get back to this special place.

  • Breathing
  • An alternative is to use your breathing as a relaxation technique:

    • Get comfortable. You can either sit or lie on your side.
    • Start paying attention to your breathing.
    • Focus on keeping your breathing slow and easy.
    • Let your breathing settle to a depth and rate that is smooth and comfortable.

    Enjoy the feeling of peace that comes from this kind of breathing.

Relaxing from the outside in

If you need a more active way to relax, you can use a muscle-based approach. Or, you can combine it with another technique. For example, you could slow breathe for a minute and then focus on relaxing the muscles that have not yet released their tension.

  • Tense and release
  • This is the easiest of the techniques:

    • Get into a comfortable position. You can either sit up or semi-recline, like being in a lounge-chair.
    • Use as many pillows as you need to support your joints and have your legs and arms comfortably flexed. Don't let one part of your body rest directly on another.
    • Take in a deep breath and slowly let it out.
    • Focus on the muscles in your forehead. Make them contract as if you were frowning. Release them.
    • Squeeze your eyes tightly shut. Release those muscles. You can either gently close your eyes or keep them open.
    • Clench your jaw. Release.
    • Draw your shoulders up toward your ears. Release.
    • Make fists and straighten your elbows. Release.
    • Take in a big breath so that you expand your chest. Release it.
    • Tighten your stomach muscles. Release.
    • Squeeze your buttocks together. Release.
    • Tighten your thighs and lock your knees. Release.
    • Point your heels until you feel the stretch in your calves. Release.
    • Curl your toes. Release.
    • Tighten all of your muscles at the same time. Release them.
    • Breathe slowly and deeply.
    • Remain in this relaxed state for a few minutes. Notice how your body feels.

    When it's time to get up, rise slowly so that you don't get lightheaded.

  • Assess and release
  • After you have used the tense and release method for a while, see if you can get relaxed without first tensing each muscle group.

    • Use pillows to get into a comfortable position.
    • Take in a comfortable breath.
    • As you let this breath out, release as many muscles as you can.
    • Continue to breathe slowly and comfortably. Starting at your head, assess each muscle group. Try to relax tense muscles as you exhale.
    • If the muscle group doesn't relax, use the tense and release method.

    Work toward being able to relax your body with one or two slow breaths.

  • Imagery and release
  • You can also blend imagery with muscle relaxation. While comfortably sitting or semi-reclining, imagine a peaceful scene. Then imagine the sun's rays gently warming your different muscle groups. This imagined warmth releases all the tension. Or, use the image of something cooling, like a stream of water.

Using your techniques

The Relaxation Worksheet can help you identify what techniques work best for you. That will help you create a relaxation routine. Do this routine for about five minutes each day. Use it to help you fall asleep at night or to give yourself a short break during the day.

As preparation for labor, practice your relaxation techniques in the positions you might use for labor and birth.


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