If you’ve looked into hypnobirthing or other methods of coping with labor and birth, you might have come across the phrase ‘breathe the baby out’. Sounds quite nice, doesn’t it?
But what does it actually mean? Can you really ‘breathe’ your baby out, rather than labor without pushing?
What it Means to Breathe Baby Out
‘Breathing baby out’ doesn’t actually mean not pushing at all. Instead, it’s using language in a different way to change the focus of attention.
When a mom in labor is told to ‘push’, or decides to push, her automatic reaction is almost always to:
- Hold her breath.
- Tense her upper body as a result of holding her breath.
- Tense her vaginal sphincters — the muscles that control urination — as a result of holding her breath and tensing her upper body.
All of this tension feels like part of the effort of pushing hard. But actually, this tension makes it harder for the muscles of the uterus to push the baby down through the birth canal.
By saying ‘breathe the baby out’, or deciding to ‘breathe the baby out’ instead of pushing, you avoid that automatic reaction of holding the breath and becoming tense.
Instead, you feel the natural sensation of bearing down that comes with a contraction in the second stage of labor — the ‘pushing’ stage. And when you feel that heavy pressure of bearing down (it can feel like a more intense version of needing a poo), rather than holding your breath, you make the conscious decision to breathe the baby out. You might make an ‘ahhh’ sound with the breath to keep it flowing.
Mothers in labor have described how it feels very different from pushing, because instead of tensing up and fighting the body’s natural urge to send the baby down and out, you go with it. You breathe with it.
With the breath continuing, the upper body and vaginal muscles don’t tense up as they do with conventional pushing. Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t make labor easy. But it changes the focus and encourages you to work with the natural action of your body’s muscles in labor.
Essentially, breathing baby out means giving in to your body’s instinctive impulses and allowing your body to be open, instead of resisting the pressure and/or pain you feel during contractions.
What are the benefits?
Now you know what breathing your baby out actually means. But why do it? Why is there a movement towards changing the language about pushing, and could it actually make a difference to your experience of childbirth?
There isn’t a huge amount of research available about this way of giving birth — yet. But many midwives encourage it, and benefits are thought to include:
• Release of tension allows the muscles of the uterus to work more efficiently, without resistance — so pushing may be less exhausting, and not take as long.
• Less force is applied to push the baby’s head out through the open cervix and the vagina — lessening the likelihood of vaginal tearing.
• Less damage makes for a quicker and easier recovery period for mom after giving birth.
• You conserve energy by continuing the flow of oxygen into your blood stream, so you don’t feel shattered and have to gasp for breath after each contraction.
The Hardest Part is Letting Go
Moms who make the decision to breathe baby out often say that the hardest part is allowing themselves to let go. Labor hurts; it’s hard, painful, and often long. It’s amazing too, and it can be an incredibly positive and empowering experience — especially if you have a supportive team around you.
But it is hard.
And when you’re in that situation it can be very difficult to make the decision to breathe with the intensity of the feelings, and allow your body to feel those things without tensing up, holding your breath, and pushing hard.
Breathing baby down is often practiced within the framework of hypnobirthing — you listen to recordings or attend classes throughout your pregnancy which give you the tools and breathing techniques which will allow you to breathe through your labor.
Breathing your baby out requires patience and trust, and it’s impossible to know what it’s going to feel like until you’re in it. One of the best things you can do for yourself as you prepare for labor is accept that things might change, and know that you can roll with it. If you decide you want to breathe your baby out and then it doesn’t work out in the moment, try not to hold on to that desire.
Let it go in the same way you’re trying to let the tension in your body go.
There’s no right or wrong way to respond to labor, and when it comes down to it, you might find that your body takes over and all of your plans and intentions for birth fly out of the window!
How to ask your health care providers to help
If you decide you want to work with the ‘breathing baby out’ method during your labor, it’s important to get your health care providers on board, along with your birthing partner if you have one.
Ask them not to tell you to ‘push’ in that second phase of labor. Ask, instead, if they can encourage you to breathe. They could could make ‘ahhh’ sounds along with you, or simply repeat the words ‘breathe your baby out’, or ‘breathe your baby down’.
Remember it’s important to trust the expertise of the professionals assisting you in labor as well as trusting yourself. If they let you know that things aren’t progressing and you do need to change your method and push, be ready to listen to that.
Chances are, your body will make that decision before they do; but try to find a balance between choosing the kind of birth you want, and knowing that birth doesn’t always turn out the way you’d imagined it.