Lamaze breathing was pioneered by French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze. In the 1950s, he championed psychoprophylaxis, a method for preparing pregnant women with physical and psychological training. This includes conscious relaxation and controlled breathing as an alternative to drugs for the management of contraction pain during childbirth.

The Lamaze method is still taught today because it’s easy to learn and, in certain situations, it might be one of few comfort strategies available.

Lamaze breathing is a breathing technique based on the idea that controlled breathing can enhance relaxation and decrease perception of pain. Some of the important techniques for controlled breathing include:

  • slow, deep breathing
  • maintaining a rhythm
  • breathing through your mouth or nose
  • keeping your eyes open or closed
  • focusing on one simple physical item, such as a photograph or your partner

Proponents of Lamaze suggest that breathing is just part of the Lamaze method. Lamaze is a full program for building confidence and keeping things simple for a safe, healthy birth. Some of the labor comfort strategies recommended to make the breathing techniques more effective include:

  • changing positions
  • moving
  • slowly dancing
  • massage

When contractions begin

Take a deep breath at the beginning and end of each contraction. This is often referred to as a cleansing or relaxing breath.

During the first stage of labor

  1. Start with a slow deep breath as your contraction starts and then slowly breathe out, releasing all physical tension from your head to your toes. This is often referred to as an organizing breath.
  2. Slowly inhale through your nose and then pause. Then exhale slowly through your mouth.
  3. Each time you exhale, focus on relaxing a different body part.

During active labor

  1. Start with an organizing breath.
  2. Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  3. Keep your breathing as slow as possible, but speed it up as the intensity of the contraction increases.
  4. Relax your shoulders.
  5. As the contraction peaks and your breathing rate increases, switch to light breathing both in and out through your mouth — about one breath per second.
  6. As the intensity of the contraction decreases, slow your breathing and go back to breathing in with your nose and out with your mouth.

Transition breathing

As you switch to light breathing during active labor (step 5 above), transition breathing can help control feelings of despair and exhaustion.

  1. Take an organizing breath.
  2. Focus your attention on one thing — a picture, your partner, even a spot on the wall.
  3. During a contraction, breath in and out through your mouth at a rate of 1 to 10 breaths every 5 seconds.
  4. Every fourth or fifth breath, blow out a longer breath.
  5. When the contraction is over, take a relaxing breath.

If you prefer, you can verbalize transition breathing with a “hee” for each of the shorter breaths and a “hoo” for the longer breath.

During the second stage of labor

  1. Take an organizing breath.
  2. Focus your mind on the baby moving down and out.
  3. Breath slowly, guided by each contraction.
  4. Adjust your breathing for comfort.
  5. When you feel the need to push, take a deep breath and slowly release it while you bear down.
  6. When the contraction is over, relax and take two calming breaths.

The conscious relaxation and controlled breathing of the Lamaze method can be a useful and effective comfort strategy during childbirth. If you’re pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you should schedule regular visits with your doctor to ensure optimum health for you and your baby. During one of those visits, you can discuss comfort strategies such as Lamaze breathing.