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Photo courtesy of Hannahbphotographyuk.com

Breathing affects your brain

Over the years I have asked women what is the single thing that helped you most in labour and those that used breathing techniques without hesitation said just that. Most women say it gives them a sense of power and the contractions a sense of purpose. This may sound a bit hippy dippy but it’s backed by science and I’ve seen it work really well numerous times.

Breathing techniques slow down autonomic nervous system turning down stress hormones so they can’t inhibit your precious flow of oxytocin. Breathing also reduces fear and increases trust because it slows down cerebral activity and puts you in touch with your intuition; taking you from the physical to the internal. Feelings are just chemicals in the blood so if we can affect your feelings we can change the chemicals in your blood.

What not to do: panic if this isn’t working for you. So, you’re in labour, you’re using your breathing techniques and they stop or just aren’t working. You can’t get into “the zone” I’ve seen a few women really panic when this has happened. They now think they can’t or won’t be able to cope so self doubt and fear creep in. Try and have a level of flexibility because feeling panicked by this is the last thing you want. Just remember that you’re safe and there are other options available. It’s really okay to abandon these and move on if you need to. 

Massage and Touch

Touch releases endorphins and that also helps flow of oxytocin. Studies have shown that women exposed to pain had a higher tolerance whilst their partner held their hand. Those of you that are tactile like me, love cuddles, will really find this helps. If you’re not so tactile or cuddly massage can still help. 

Most of the women that I have cared for like their lower back being massaged as they are lent over. Don’t be afraid to ask your birth partner to get hands on. It’s what they’re there for. 

The most important things is that you go with whatever feels right at the time and don’t let someone continue massaging or touching you if your needs change. 

Suck up to your senses

Music – we all have a song or two that bring back a clear feeling or memory. I have two, one takes me to Thailand at the infamous ‘full moon party’ and another takes me to a horrendous argument I had with my ex whilst stuck in traffic. Each song induces such different emotions and I will never get away from both memories as soon as I hear those songs. My point here is that music matters. It stimulates sensory perception, memory and then creates a feeling. For women that don’t want to or feel they can’t use hypnobirthing I recommend using the effect music has on memory recall to their advantage. 

For the recall to be successful you need to do this regularly. Pick a song you like but one that you don’t already have a strong memory associated with. Go to you favourite room at home put ear phones in and play it. Take in the detail, the feeling of comfort, the colours and smells. Breathe slowly and simply listen to the song and lyrics. About half way through close your eyes and now just using your nose and ears focus on how safe and relaxed you’re feeling as you listen to the song. Everything is perfect in that moment.

Do this a few times a week if you can. 

At any time in labour or if ever you’re feeling anxious play the song and close your eyes. Mentally take yourself to your favourite room. Really focus on that feeling you had at home when you felt safe and relaxed. Listen to and connect with the lyrics again. 

This can be really powerful. I love hypnobirthing and am a massive advocate of it but I appreciate that it is not for every one. Using memory recall through music is a short cut to getting your mind and body into a relaxed state. 

Low lighting 

Melatonin works with oxytocin. What that means is the main hormone responsible for labour is more likely to flow in lower lighting. It’s a shy hormone so dim the lights to encourage it to come out.