BREATHING for Pain Relief - in labor... and in life

by Mindy Bigler, LMT

Maternity Massage Specialist/Childbirth Educator, Salt Lake Prenatal Massage

Did you know that how you breathe can have a big impact on how well you cope with and feel pain?

Deep abdominal breathing can help reduce the amount of pain you feel during labor, help relax the muscles during a massage, and help you calm down during stressful events.

Abdominal breathing helps increase the amount of oxygen to the muscles to help them relax and also releases endorphin's that are natures pain relievers.

Abdominal breathing means breathing fully from your abdomen or from the bottom of your lungs.

It is exactly the reverse of the way you breathe when you’re anxious or tense, which is typically shallow and high in your chest. If you’re breathing from your abdomen, you can place your hand on your abdomen and see it actually rise each time you inhale. You’ll find that abdominal breathing will help you relax any time you are feeling anxious.

Let’s try an exercise together. Begin by closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing.

Are you:

breathing rapidly or slowly?

taking deep breaths or shallow breaths?

feeling the breath in the center of your chest, or down around your abdomen?

Most people tend to breathe in a slightly abnormal way, they tend to hold in their stomachs, make little use of their diaphragm, and breathe using the muscles of their upper chest, neck and shoulders. This is not the most effective way to get the needed oxygen to our brain and muscles.

If you watch babies or animals breathe, you will notice that they breathe with their whole bodies, their bellies rise and fall with each breath.

Cleansing breaths: deep abdominal breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Good to help calm and make rational decisions, ease fears, reduce anxiety, beneficial for both partner and mom to learn when working as a team during labor, and increases oxygen to the brain.

1. Place one hand on your abdomen right beneath your rib cage.

2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose into the bottom of your lungs. Your chest should move only slightly, while your stomach rises, pushing your hand up.

3. When you have inhaled fully, pause for a moment and then exhale fully through your mouth. Purse your lips and imagine that you are blowing on a hot spoonful of soup. As you exhale, just let yourself go and imagine your entire body going loose and limp. It should take you twice as long to exhale as it did to inhale.

4. In order to fully relax, take and release ten abdominal breaths. Try to keep your breathing smooth and regular throughout, without gulping in a big breath or exhaling suddenly.

Learning how to do abdominal breathing and cleansing breaths can make your massages more productive, labor more effective and less painful, and is even good to teach your children to help them calm down.


Milady’s Theory and Practice of Therapeutic Massage by Mark F. Beck