Breath is such an awesome tool in labor. It’s free, available to everyone, and can be used in any position or circumstance. Breathing brings oxygen to a woman and her baby. It helps with relaxation — both physical and emotional. It brings a birthing person’s awareness deep into their body, and it can be a helpful tool for rhythm and connection. As a doula, I remind clients of their breath in almost every birth I attend.
Deep, cleansing breath...
The history of Lamaze breathing patterns
Back in the 1960s, Lamaze International taught strict, patterned breathing as the go-to comfort measure for labor. Lamaze was quickly branded as “the breathing method.” I totally understand why it stuck. The scripted, rigid Lamaze breathing that was used back then made for great sitcom scenes. And in real life, the breathing patterns and practice were dramatic enough that if families remembered nothing from their birth classes, they surely would remember that (whether or not it actually helped during their labor).
Today's take on "the breathing"
So does Lamaze still teach “the breathing”? I feel pretty comfortable saying that across the board, Lamaze educators do teach families about what we now call conscious breathing. That’s the breath I referred to at the beginning of this post… the breath that helps people center and relax, the breath that encourages the hormones of labor to work well for an easier, faster labor. It’s easy, it’s natural, it’s relaxed. Many of us are also teaching breath awareness as stress relief and a mindfulness tool during pregnancy (that’s especially important for women of color, who face address stress and risk during their pregnancies because of racism). Yes, we teach about breathing, but definitely not the “hee-hee, hoo-hoo” of long ago.
Lamaze International broke away from scripted Lamaze breathing patterns in the 1980s, as Judith Lothian described in her 2011 article, “Lamaze Breathing: What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know.” As our understanding of birth broadened, the comfort measures toolbox got bigger. As all great organizations do, Lamaze evolved. Strict breathing patterns just aren’t part of our classrooms anymore, and they haven’t been for a long time. So why does that image hold on? I really think the scripted breathing made for such darned good drama and comedy that it wiggled its way into our collective consciousness. It’s been fun, but it’s way past time for society to let. it. go.
What Lamaze is really about
Instead of revolving around breathing patterns, today’s Lamaze International is rooted in the idea that pregnancy and birth are normal, natural life events. The Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices show us how interventions that aren’t medically necessary can interfere with the physiologic process of birth.
Lamaze is committed to creative, evidence-based teaching techniques to help parents set the stage for positive birth experiences. That’s what I teach new Lamaze childbirth educators when I train them through Heart Soul Birth Pros.
That's it, one more deep, easy breath. Let it go.
Was breathe important to you during your own labor? How so? If you’re a childbirth educator or doula, what do you tell your students and clients about breathing? What have you heard about Lamaze breathing and has your perception changed over time? Leave us a comment to share your thoughts.