“Please breathe, Ma’am. Breathe deeply,” they say, but do we really know how to breathe during childbirth? One of the biggest clichés is how the women in movies breathe quickly and shortly. Is this right, though? In this article, we’ll look at breathing exercises that will help you to relax during pregnancy and childbirth.

In general, we pay very little attention to how we breathe. It comes so naturally that we do not realize when we really breathe. Many of my patients forget to breathe and go into apnea.

So, what happens when we breathe? We breathe in air, usually through the nose when we’re not sick, and this enters the lungs. Your chest rises with your shoulders when you are sitting (chest breathing) or the stomach rises (ventral or abdominal breathing), or some combination of both takes place simultaneously. In our exercises, we will try to become aware of our breathing, and above all, we will try to ensure that we breathe continuously.

First, make yourself comfortable, such as by lying on your back or sitting, preferably on a fitness ball. Place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. We’ll start with chest breathing. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through the mouth. Your belly should be immobilized, so you take all the air into your chest. Next, exhale completely and empty your lungs. Continue by repeatedly inhaling for four or five seconds and exhaling for the same four or five seconds.

After five repetitions of this, move onto abdominal breathing. This time, the chest will be immobilized instead. Inhale through the nose and inflate your belly before exhaling through the mouth and emptying the air completely. Alternate inhaling and exhaling for four or five seconds each until you’ve completed five breathing cycles.

Next, start to visualize your body during this deep breathing. As you inhale, imagine the air is travelling along the uterus. Your uterus is located along the line on your belly. Without blocking the air at the end of the inhalation, exhale and imagine it blowing along the spine towards the perineum and the cervix. In this way, the baby will be encompassed by your breathing.

The more you practice breathing like this, the more comfortable you will feel (e.g., with your lungs, ribs, etc.), and your breathing will become slower and deeper. You can even breathe like this in a standing position. During childbirth contractions, you can apply this sort of breathing, and especially the visualization, to help the opening of the cervix. You can also breathe while moving, and this will promote cervical dilatation and help the baby’s descent. You should especially avoid short breathing. This is how we breathe when we are stressed or upset, and an accelerated respiration rate will only make childbirth more difficult to manage.

There’s another type of breathing that’s very effective at calming pregnant women, who can often feel stressed because of hormones. This is called Sufi Breathing. Sometimes, a mom-to-be may feel very pessimistic and have negative thoughts, so this breathing technique helps by switching the brain from its beta frequency (which is associated with a thought or active attention) to its alpha frequency (which is associated with relaxation and wellbeing).

Sufi breathing allows us to stimulate our vital energy (also known as prana) and send it toward our seven major energy centers (known as chakras). The chakras are related to our endocrine glands and responsible for the proper functioning of the body.

Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Since your eyes will be closed, sitting reduces the temptation to fall asleep. We’ll now begin our Sufi breathing. Inhale through the nose and also exhale through the nose, but at half the speed of your inhalation. You don’t necessarily need to count the time, but it may help to do this initially until you get a feel for it. For example, breathe in for say four seconds through your nose, and then exhale over eight seconds, also through your nose. You can concentrate on the sound of your breath to help your concentration. After five minutes, the brain will move to a state of relaxation, but to really benefit from this technique, it’s better to practice for at least ten minutes.

This breathing, alternating between chest and abdominal breathing, will help you to manage your pain better during childbirth. By remaining calm, your body will secrete the endorphin hormone, which reduces pain. There is nothing better than experiencing a serene childbirth and welcoming your new baby in the best of conditions.

So, these are some breathing techniques you can use during childbirth. Practice them daily, so you can integrate them completely and be prepared for your pregnancy. They will all but guarantee a peaceful and enjoyable pregnancy.