1. Breathe naturally between contractions, as you do when you are falling asleep.
2. When a contraction begins, inhale deeply and slowly through your nose, and then slowly exhale through your mouth in a long, steady stream. As you breathe out, let your facial muscles relax and your limbs go limp as you imagine the tension leaving your body. Think of this exhalation as a long sigh of release.
3. As the contraction peaks, remind yourself to continue breathing at a relaxed, comfortable rate.
4. Ask your partner to remind you to slow down if you start breathing too fast in response to an intense contraction. Have him take slow, relaxed breaths along with you.
5. If you still find yourself breathing too fast, stop for a minute and take a deep breath, followed by a long, drawn-out blow, as if you are blowing off steam. Do this periodically to remind yourself to slow down.
6. Partners should watch the mother’s breathing patterns for cues as to how she is coping. Slow, deep, rhythmic breathing shows that she is handling her contractions well. Fast, spasmodic breathing communicates tension and anxiety. Use massage, model proper breathing, or suggest a change of position.
7. Don’t pant. Panting is not natural for humans. (Dogs and cats in labor pant because they don’t sweat. It’s their way of releasing body heat. ) Panting not only exhausts you, it lessens your oxygen intake and may lead to hyperventilation.
8. Don’t hyperventilate. Breathing too fast and too heavily blows off too much carbon dioxide, causing you to feel light-headed and have tingling sensations in your fingers, toes, and face. Some women tend to hyperventilate during the height of intense contractions and need caring reminders to relax their breathing. If you start to hyperventilate, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, as slowly as you can.
9. Don’t hold your breath. Even during the strain of pushing, the blue in the face, blood-vessel-popping breath holding you see in movies is not only exhausting, but deprives you and your baby of much-needed oxygen.