Relaxation techniques

Having a baby is not just about your body. Pregnancy also affects your emotions and how you feel and care for yourself. Preparing yourself physically and emotionally will prepare your mind and body for labor, the changes that occur afterward and your relationship with your baby. A busy mind is common during pregnancy, as expectant mothers may sometimes feel overwhelmed.

Your mind and body are linked together. When your mind worries or feels fear, it affects your body, sometimes causing muscle tension and physical discomfort. Finding ways to relax helps move past fear and puts your mind and body at rest. There are many relaxation techniques that can be useful in easing anxiety before and during delivery and help to lessen pain as you recover.

Some forms of relaxation you may already know, such as reading, taking a bath, watching TV, listening to music, and talking with family and friends. These are all helpful to use as you prepare for birth and recovery.

Other forms of relaxation may be new to you and may be helpful in a different way. Practicing these mind-body skills long before you ever go into labor will prepare you for birth and recovery.

Mind and body skills

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.

Becoming aware of your breathing and learning different ways to breathe can help reduce your heart rate, increase your oxygen flow, calm your fears and change how you feel pain. Focusing on your breathing can help you shift your concentration from discomfort to something more pleasant.

  • 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.
pregnant woman relaxing in a recliner

Muscle relaxation

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 relaxing your body with one or two slow breaths.

Guided imagery

Guided imagery is the act of closing your eyes and imagining yourself in a positive place. It can be done with words from another person or with music. You can also imagine this positive place in silence. The relaxing effect of guided imagery is often a sense of calm and peacefulness.

  • Sit comfortably in a chair and close your eyes.
  • Focus on your breathing, feeling your chest rise and fall with each breath in and out.
  • Imagine your favorite place. Pay attention to the sounds, colors, scents and textures.
  • Take some time to enjoy the calmness in this place and enjoy your sense of peace and comfort.
  • Finish with several deep breaths. Keep your breaths slow and easy. Let your breathing settle to a depth and rate that is smooth and comfortable.

Using your techniques

The relaxation worksheet can help you identify what techniques works 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

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

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/02/2015

Tips
  • Watch a series of short videos on how to manage pain before, during and after birth.
  • Every Allina Health hospital offers aromatherapy. You breathe essential oils to help reduce pain and anxiety, and to relax your busy mind. Ask about this when you arrive at the hospital.
  • Practice mind-body skills. There is a link to iTunes to buy Guided Imagery for Pregnancy and Birth, which will help you with relaxation, pain control, healing and breastfeeding.
  • Write down any questions or concerns and bring them to your regular checkups. Having information about your pregnancy, labor and recovery is a good way to put your mind at ease.
Tip

You can blend imagery with muscle relaxation Sit in a comfortable position and imagine a peaceful scene. Imagine the sun's ray gently warming your different muscle groups. Imagine the warmth releases all the tension in your muscles.

You can also imagine something cooling, such as a stream of water or a gentle waterfall.