Breathing During Labour

What affects my breathing in labour?

  • Excitement
  • Pain
  • Tiredness
  • Worries/anxiety
  • Fear
  • Contractions.

All of these responses may be experienced during labour. These feelings may change your normal breathing pattern in either of these ways:

  • Breath holding
  • Panic breathing (hyperventilation).

These may make you more tense, frightened and anxious.

Breathing for the first stage of labour

Contractions are felt as the uterine muscles tighten and the muscles of the cervix relax and open. Some may be experienced as backache, aching in legs or similar to deep cramp of period pain. It is important to maintain a regular breathing pattern to assist the uterus by:

  • Relaxing
  • Listening to your breathing
  • Use a phrase with your breathing.

‘Sigh Out Slowly’ (SOS)

‘Breathe in through my nose and sigh out through my mouth’ (in 2,3 out 2,3).
Breathe in through your nose and imagine, as you sigh out, that you are causing a candle flame to gently flicker.

You may find it useful to greet the contraction with a sigh and end with a sigh.

You and your birth partner

Practice breathing together, before the birth.


  • Imagine a contraction is arriving
  • Greet the first discomfort with a sigh
  • Relax and breathe through the pain
  • End with a sigh.

Your birthing partner

  • Can time your breathing for you, to practice the length of contraction
  • Can learn to breathe at the same rate as you
  • Can help to remind you of a phrase if you are using one for labour
  • Can help you to concentrate on your breathing and relaxation throughout labour.

Breathing and relaxation through a contraction will help release endorphins (the body’s own natural pain reliever) and ease your discomfort.

Breathing for second stage of labour

During the second stage of labour, you need to use your breath control to help push your baby out. Work with your body, listen to what your body is telling you. Your midwife may feel she can help you with this. Try to relax your pelvic floor muscles and not hold your breath while pushing.

As the baby begins to emerge, stretching the perineum, the midwife may ask you to stop pushing. Panting can sometimes help you with this.

Either slow panting or gentle blowing (just hard enough to make a candle flame flicker) will allow the baby to emerge slower and the midwife will be able to control its arrival whilst trying to avoid tearing.