Your support person plays a key role in your labour and birth experience. There are many things they can do to help you feel more comfortable so labour can proceed as smoothly as possible.
Helping with breathing
Your support person can help you maintain rhythmic control of your breathing as you cope with the increasing intensity of labour contractions. One of the most important jobs can be to keep you focused on your exhalation. It is normal for people who are stressed or in pain to hold their breath. However, holding your breath can cause your body to become more tense, and reduces the oxygen that both you and your baby need during labour. If your support person can keep you focused on your breath out, the breathing in will take care of itself, and your rhythm will proceed.
There are many patterns of breathing you can use to help get through the stages of labour. It is common to start off breathing in a slow, deep, even pattern, and then to move to shorter lighter breaths as the labour intensity picks up. In the transition phase (close to the start of pushing), many women need to mix up whatever pattern they can concentrate on at the time. Some women find specific patterns helpful while some others find them confusing. The important thing is to keep on breathing.
Watch breathing patterns
Your support person should watch your breathing patterns. Steady, rhythmic breathing helps to calm you. Some women say it gives them a sense of control. Other women say is is more a feeling of letting go. Breathing patterns help you, your baby, your partner and your caregivers by:
- Helping your body to relax
- Giving your baby a good supply of oxygen during the contraction
- Letting your partner and everyone in the room know that a contraction is starting or ending so they know when to help
Many childbirth education programs will teach you different patterns of breathing. It’s important for you to find the pattern and rhythm that will work for you.
Watch for hyperventilation
Sometimes during labour you may breathe too quickly. This is called hyperventilation. If this happens, you may feel:
- Light-headed or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in your hands and feet
- Muscle spasms or cramps
If you feel any of these symptoms, slow your breathing rate during contractions or cup your hands over your nose and mouth. Breathing into a paper bag can also help.
For more ideas for when you offer Labour Support, click here to see the Alberta Health Services resource: Healthy Parents Healthy Children