Step 7 of 12 Essentials for Natural Childbirth: Abdominal Breathing

Rhondda Hartman
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Rhondda Hartman

Natural Childbirth Expert, Author, Exercise & How-To Advice and Information - over 14,000 moms taught to have successful unmedicated births with joy.
Rhondda Hartman
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You must become very good at abdominal breathing because during the first stage of labor, with each contraction you will breathe with your abdomen and relax completely. This will allow you to remain comfortable and it will be your secret to having a natural childbirth. Between contractions you may do whatever you feel like doing and breathe however you wish. But with a contraction, abdominal breathing is a must!

Abdominal breathing and relaxation belong together. You do them better together than you are able to do each separately. Your ability to do both will increase with practice, so the amount of time you spend at it beforehand will pay great dividends during labor.


When you inhale, your abdomen rises; as you exhale, it lowers. The breathing must be very slow and full. Give plenty of time for each part of the breath.

Since your body will be working very hard during labor, you will require great quantities of oxygen to fulfill your needs. At the same time, you must be totally relaxed for your labor to progress smoothly and easily.

If your abdominal muscles are relaxed and being raised slowly with abdominal breathing, there will be minimal discomfort when the contracting, bulging uterus pushes against the abdominal wall.

During exhalation, the abdominal wall along with the whole body remains relaxed to avoid interference with the work of the contracting uterus.

Abdominal Breathing is Necessary

First … you need the large amount of oxygen that this type of deep breathing will allow. Ordinary breathing, usually much more shallow, cannot easily serve the great oxygen needs of the laboring body.

Second … you can relax much better if you breathe in this manner, and only with relaxation will you be comfortable during first-stage labor.

Third … the control used in the breathing helps give you the mastery of your body required to relax with each contraction of the uterus.


  1. Sit leaning against a pillow with knees raised to lessen the tension of the abdominal muscles. This position is for learning how to do it properly. As soon as you have learned the technique, you may practice on your side in a relaxed position.
  2. Put your hands low on your abdomen so that you can feel the pubic bone. This guides you to take a deeper breath than if your hands are higher up on the abdomen.
  3. Open your mouth and take a deep breath. Let the breath push your abdomen and hands up.
  4. Slowly let your breath out and hands and abdomen go down again.
  5. Repeat and practice for about two minutes. Breathe slowly and deeply.
  6. Now put one hand up on your chest. There should be no chest movement as you continue to breathe abdominally.

Stop and rest! Now do it again, and make each breath as long in duration as is comfortable. Try to “fill your abdomen” with air. Notice the difference between letting the breath push your abdomen up and having the muscles lift your abdomen.

You must not tense your abdominal muscles or any muscles in your body. For you to be comfortable in labor, your abdominal wall must remain relaxed while the uterus is contracting. Sometimes this can be confusing but your coach will be able to feel the difference and can coach you to know when you are doing well. Practice together now so that you’ll be a good team when labor begins.


Where do you practice? Anytime you can lie down for a few moments and when you are ready for sleep at night. Do several minutes of concentrated relaxation with abdominal breathing each time.
Begin to use abdominal breathing during the day as you think of it. As you first learn this type of breathing, you may despair that it will ever become easy. It quickly becomes a comfortable way of breathing, though, and by the time you go into labor, it should come very naturally. The more you practice, the easier your first stage of labor will be.


During pregnancy – Practice often during pregnancy, at least three times each day, taking several breaths. Consider two minutes a good amount of time for a practice contraction, although a contraction would not likely be this long. You will soon learn to breathe abdominally in other positions so that you can practice it all day long. Practice it while sitting in a contour position until you know for sure how to do it, and then alternate with the side-lying relaxation position.

In labor – with each contraction, relax completely and take deep, slow, full abdominal breaths. Continue with abdominal breathing and relaxation for the total time of each contraction. In between you can stretch, move, talk or even go to sleep. With the next contraction, go back to “work” immediately.

You now have the “secret” of how to be comfortable during a contraction in First Stage of Labor!!

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