Learning the art of breathing during pregnancy is a little like relearning how to ride a bike. It’s something we do automatically, but the presence of baby forces us to learn how to breathe in a whole new way. Towards the second and third trimester baby starts to take up more space in the abdomen, shifting organs out of the way in their quest for space. This puts pressure on the diaphragm, the main muscle that controls our breathing. The shifting of the internal organs and the growing size of baby is often the cause of shortness of breath. The abdominal, or belly, breathing that most of us do subconsciously starts to become more laboured. That is why we often focus on the breath in prenatal classes, whether it be in a simple seated meditation pose or during more physically challenging asanas. We learn how to breathe more deeply with the upper body, something I tend to call a “three-dimensional breath,” where we look to expand the breath into the upper part of the body, breathing into the back and side ribs rather than just the front of the chest.
The other important aspect of breathing is the evenness of the breath. In class we try to balance the inhalation as well as the exhalation, producing a deeper, more rhythmic and ultimately relaxing breath that reduces tension in the body and delivers the increased oxygen that both you and baby need.
These breathing techniques not only greatly benefit you during pregnancy, but they can also be an invaluable tool once contractions begin. Focusing on the breath during the birthing process can encourage the body to relax, the mind to calm, and help mom to preserve her strength for the duration of her delivery. I can say without a doubt that the breathing techniques I teach and practised myself during my own pregnancy were the single most important tool I used during my birthing experience. They helped me focus at a time when anxiety and fatigue wanted to take over as well as stay calm and keep my muscles loose as the contractions progressed.