Every single birth preparation, birth and birth-coaching skill in Birthing Better was developed by some ordinary family, used by hundreds, refined and deepened. This fact alone makes Birthing Better breathing skills unique, adaptable, adjustable and suited for every type of birth … unlike Lamaze, The Bradley Method, Calm Birth, Hypnobirthing or Yoga breathing. All of these techniques focus on achieving:
- a natural birth
- a painless labor
Great … but what if?
Birthing Better families developed breathing skills based on our shared human body’s ability to regulate our inhale and exhale to achieve a positive birth in every situation. There is no disappointment, anger, blame, shame or guilt.
Directed Breathing was developed in the early 1970s as a response to the type of breathing techniques taught then that we’re working for so many birthing women. Something was not quite right with what expectant families were being taught. This is sort of like the pelvic floor or elevator exercises. Who ever thought that tightening inside our body as a way to prepare for birth made sense. Really! Tighten up inside now. If a grapefruit were having to get out would being tight hinder or help? Hinder! Soften inside! And then after the birth tighten.
Breathing techniques failed too often
The most common and well-known breathing techniques were Lamaze and Bradley.
- Lamaze breathing was in and out the mouth in short, blowing breaths that caused hyperventilation. The solution was to breathe into a bag until the nausea or light-headedness stop. The ‘hold your breath and push’ during 2nd stage was also Lamaze. Women could not use this breathing technique for long!
- The Bradley Method did focus on in the nose and out the mouth but many women screamed while doing that. You can scream while breathing in your nose and out your mouth. Try it.
These two types of breathing techniques worked well for some but not for many others.
The original sin in childbirth
Lamaze, Bradley and Grantly Dick-Reid were caring male obstetricians who introduced universal skills to childbirth. They meant well but made a fatal flaw. Every birthing woman deserves great skills not just those seeking one type of birth.
Since then all the childbirth breathing techniques have focused on one type of birth … this elusive ‘natural’ birth and achieving pain free labour … good luck to that. Of tens of thousands of Birthing Better families about 4% achieve a ‘pain free’ labour. The majority of birthing women find labour contractions to range from ‘bearable’ to ‘I’m going to die’. You want great breathing skills to cope with the NATURAL occurring pain!
Birthing Better families were clear … we want skills that work in all births, are adaptable and adjustable.
Original purpose for labor breathing
- The purpose of breathing techniques has been to distract women from the naturally occurring pain of contractions. There are many theories surrounding the use of breathing techniques as a useful tool for self-management of birth pain. Here’s the rub. Many women can’t be distracted from the pain. They hate it! Birthing Better families admitted they didn’t like the pain when it got really intense yet they wanted excellent breathing skills so they could cope, manage, work with, deal with, handle, stay on top of and in control. They didn’t want to be distracted. They wanted to be in control!
- Give fathers an active role in coaching birth. This has always been a brilliant idea but we needed men to have good breathing patterns as well.
For most of the history of modern maternity medical care women laboured alone either in a ward separated by curtains, a semi-private or private room. By the mid-1960s women demanded the presence of their husband during labour. They didn’t want to be alone. Women wanted help in coping with labour pain. The most natural person to help was the husband. After all he was going to be a father and women rightly believed that men should understand how hard labour was. Many men felt left out of the whole birth arena. Although some cultures excluded fathers historically, there were many cultures where fathers were actively involved.
A man who learned breathing techniques was much more likely to actively help his partner manage contractions. This built family relationship. Men appreciated the hard work of labour, often grew in admiration of women and bonded more easily with their baby.
However, these early breathing techniques didn’t always work. The most common reason that breathing techniques didn’t work had to do with the intensity of pain. When the pain became very intense in the perception of the woman, often she felt out of control and lost control of the techniques she was taught. Early breathing techniques did not adapt or adjust to pain intensity.
This had a spin off effect for the man. Often men thought that the pain had shifted into a ‘problem’. This was mixed with a belief that the woman knew what she was doing or that her feeling out of control was a normal part of labour. This led to confusion. While the woman often wanted her husband to help her, he was often uncertain how to or whether he could or should. Sometimes he just wanted the obstetrician to come in and ‘do something’ to put her out of her misery.
There was another failing of all these breathing techniques. They were so focused on achieving a natural birth that if more interventions were part of the experience, women stopped using their breathing skills. They felt the skills failed and they felt they had failed. We just can’t have this failure be part of birth.
Evolution of labor breathing
Directed Breathing is an entirely different way to use our breathing in labour. We breathe all the time and will continue to breathe in labour whether we groan, scream or are very quiet. Breathing techniques are based on theories about breath, where Directed Breathing is based on what we do as humans when we breathe in different situations or activities.
The one and only contributing factor to a change in a woman’s breath in labour is directly due to the amount of pain she is experiencing. Pain is subjective yet if any person who experiences what they perceive of as painful will find their breath changing. Usually one pain response is to increase the rate of our breathing or to begin to make sounds. Groaning, moaning, hyperventilating are all part of this common response to feelings of pain.
Directed Breathing childbirth skills move us from merely using a technique to understanding how humans breathe when they feel pain and how we can work with pain using both our inhalation and exhalation. Birth pain is unique. It’s usually not coupled with an injury, sickness or even a ‘problem’. It naturally occurs and is connected to the opening of our cervix that is the closure of our womb. The pain also rises and subsides. When a baby is ready to be born, the cervix must open. This stretching causes pain during the contractions that are the action of the womb to tug open the cervix.
Directed Breathing is based on these principles
- There are only 4 ways all humans breathe: in/out the nose, in nose/out mouth, in/out mouth and in mouth/out nose.
- Each of these ways (patterns) has variations depending on what we are doing
- There are some variations that create relaxation and others indicate we are stressed
- Use the variations that create relaxation in you!
- Add to these variations the ability to expand on each inhalation and soften with each exhalation
- Adapt and adjust each breath cycle (inhalation/exhalation) to what you are experiencing
Breathing is universal
Learning Directed Breathing skills is vitally important during pregnancy from 24 weeks onward. All humans breathe the same way so men and women will both understand what relaxed breathing feels like compared to stressed breathing. This means couples can work more closely and men can understand the sounds a woman makes in labour, what those sounds means and how to help right away by modeling relaxed breathing patterns.
Benefits of Directed Breathing
- Directed Breathing skills do create a focus to work with the baby’s efforts to be born even if your inner voice doesn’t like the experience.
- Using Directed Breathing permits us to use our willpower, determination and choice at every moment of birth. In fact as contractions get more painful, we are more likely to use our Directed Breathing skills more deeply.
- Directed Breathing makes common sense, becomes our default behavior and is sustainable over hours and hours.
- Your partner can model the best breathing type and work with you during each of the 5 phases of each contraction. (Another Birthing Better skill)
- Directed Breathing works in absolutely all births no matter the circumstances
- Learn Directed Breathing when you are planning a cesarean, used on way to hospital, while being prepped, during delivery and recovery.
Birth is birth. Every baby’s birth is special. Every baby deserves a skilled birthing mother and skilled coaching father/other. We will all breathe. Intentionally using your Directed Breathing skills will give you a sense of control of the experience as well as working with your baby’s efforts. This is terrific.