Diaphragmatic Breathing During Pregnancy, Birth, and Postnatal Recovery

By Ashley Brichter,
CCCE, CLC, PCD(DONA)

Having a baby can be one of the most stressful experiences in life. During your pregnancy, labor and postnatal period you will likely be feeling some combination of exhausted, excited, guilty, hopeful, scared, and anxious. The pure combination and intensity of emotions can be overwhelming. Thanks hormones!

Through my teaching of childbirth preparation, personal yoga practice, and investigation into pelvic floor therapy I have become dedicated to diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing, when done correctly and often, is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety (and eliminate the “overwhelm”) from your pregnancy, birth, or postnatal experience.

Give this exercise a try:

  • Breathe normally for a minute.
  • When it feels right, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Now put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly and notice your body’s movement on the inhale and the exhale. With intentional breath, you are likely feeling that your belly expands on the inhale and contracts on the exhale.

Let’s change it up slightly:

  • Place your hands on your ribs (as if you had your hands on your hip, but your hips are now at or slightly lower than your bra line).
  • Repeat your deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. On your inhale focus on expanding the width of your ribcage.
  • Once you’ve been able to access the feeling of your ribcage expanding, continue for three more breaths.

Don’t you feel better?

The additional cue of expanding your ribcage is the trick to diaphragmatic breathing as opposed to “chest breathing” or “belly breathing.” In addition to reducing anxiety and calming us down, diaphragmatic breathing can increase your baby’s oxygen supply in pregnancy, reduce the intensity of contractions in labor, and protect our milk let-down postnatally.