Breath: The Key to Reducing Pain
Excerpt from Chapter 4
pregnant woman

Other than your mountain and warrior presence, your most important contribution to labor is helping your partner keep her breath flowing. Tension and anxiety increase the minute breath becomes shallow or restricted, and decrease the minute breath becomes smooth and flowing. Breath is the most powerful tool you can use to keep you both centered. It is also the most powerful tool your partner can use to decrease pain.

The first action you take in any situation is a breath. The breath affects the lungs, immediately cueing the nervous system. The nervous system responds by sending messages, which impact the mind-body system. Messages sent from the nervous system affect us physically, emotionally, and mentally. If we alter how we breathe, we alter the constellation of messages and

reactions in our entire system.

A focus on the breath keeps you both grounded in the moment, and gives each of you the ability to work with one wave of labor at a time. You cannot breathe in the past or in the future. By focusing on the breath, you help your partner stay focused in the now. Most women can deal with one breath, one wave of labor at a time. When a woman cannot release tension from one wave, she carries it into the next wave. As tension accumulates from one wave to the next, labor becomes overwhelming. Then the mother either accelerates or shuts down the breath in an effort to cope.

Rapid, shallow breathing, hyperventilating, or temporarily holding the breath seems to help the mother cope in the moment. But the result is escalating pain, which creates a downward spiral. Simple intervention with her breath prevents it from continuing. Rhythmic, flowing breath helps the mother release tension between the waves, as well as during the waves, which reduces pain.

When breath is haphazard, rapid, shallow, or exhibits long pauses, it cues the nervous system to release fright, flight, or fight responses. Then tension, anxiety, and pain levels soar. Getting through labor with recurrent fright, flight, or fight cues is like scaling a cliff that goes straight up with no rope to hold onto. The minute you assist your partner to focus on breath, it is like giving her a rope so she can continue her climb. (See Chapter 10 for Breath Intervention Skills.)

Julie shared how important it was to have her partner assist her with breath: I couldn’t have made it through labor without drugs if my husband hadn’t been there to keep me focused on the breath. It helped me to anchor whenever I panicked.

Effective breathing is critical for your partner, but how you breathe can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your contribution. Your stable presence is anchored in your own fluid breathing. Alexander shared how breath was a key element during his labor vigil:

Labor was like this giant observance of the breath—both my breath and my wife’s. The breath kept us connected. By keeping tabs on my breath, I kept connected to myself and by keeping tabs on her breath, I kept connected to her and how she was doing. And it really is true; there are few things as stabilizing or reassuring as flowing breath.

Simply diving into your breath has a profound influence on you both. Breath literally has the power to revolutionize your experience.