The Labor and Delivery Connection – breathing

One of most amazing yet frightening times of a woman’s life is that process of L&D.  The process takes control of your body, much like a panic attack…. You experience all sort of weird and unusual symptoms that on their own could be alarming, and cause fear, yet it is accepted as a normal process and by the 9th month many cannot wait to no longer be pregnant.   Let’s learn what works for these women  so that  the same principles may be applied to panic and anxiety attacks.

During labor I have seen many a mom become overwhelmed by the process and over many years practices and procedures that work have been developed to educate expectant moms. Childbirth classes all have many of the same elements and have changed only a little over the years. Women who attend and “Practice” do better. In fact, I believe they can shorten their labor by allowing the body to do what it must. They end up with a much more positive birth experience.

Classes first educate you on the process to help eliminate the fear, and help you understand that the body is made to birth a baby. Secondly you have a coach or as we prefer to them as a “Go To” person.  This person is educated on what to say and more important what not to say! Positive encouragement goes a long way.

Then you practice breathing again and again and again. Repetition is key in helping the woman be prepared for the birth process, so that she will automatically breath in a way to help aid the process not let it overtake her.  The pain of childbirth may be somewhat unique in each woman.

Much of that comes from her expectations.  For example, when I started working in L&D back in the 70’s most women did well with breathing and relaxation techniques. They knew it would be painful, but they also knew and accepted that labor did not last forever. (However, much, much, much, longer than a panic attack) 

Things began to change more in the last 10 -15 years.  More women tended to expect not to feel pain. That is, they wanted drugs.  However, the process still went on as normal.  For many the pain control they wanted started earlier and earlier in their labor, even if it meant a potential for a staled or longer labor.  So many women we had to do on the spot training in breathing and relaxation until it was the appropriate time for medications.

Let’s take an epidural, now that is serious stuff not to be taken lightly.  The monitoring is through the roof as it should be for the safety of the mother and the baby. The potential for a drop in B/P can cause very real consequences for both mom and baby.  Yet with vigilant monitoring the nursing staff and Doctors can control most potential problems.   Then there is the Amish and Mennonite community that also often labor in the hospital and most of them still without meds.  There bodies are no different than our; they have the same type of contractions so what is different?  Biggest difference I note is that they accept the normal and work with it.

Society in general is much more about SELF! Selfies, texting constantly… I look at it as the strive for control! When this is prevalent the individual becomes much more aware of any bodily changes even things ever so slight, that they question things much sooner. AND because of the statistics we shared previously – if 90% of your thoughts are repetitive and 80% of those are negative you can easily see why many today can more easily fall pray to the various forms of mental torment. Somewhere along the line the role of being positive has been swept under the carpet. TIME WE CLEAN HOUSE.

Nugget: Our bodies are made for the birth process as well as the fight or flight response of panic and anxiety attacks. They are both normal responses.

So, what about the birthing classes?   So, they teach you to breathe and relax.  Why? because it works.  These are two keys factors in getting you back in control and keeping you in control in any stressful situation. Lets look at the breathing aspect of childbirth.

Pain, and fear tends to make you hyperventilate. That in turn causes some weird sensations such as this list from

Hyperventilation: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, weak, or not able to think straight.
  • Feeling as if you can’t catch your breath.
  • Chest pain or fast and pounding heartbeat.
  • Belching or bloating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Muscle spasms in the hands and feet.
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms or around the mouth.
  • Problems sleeping.

Bet this list sounds familiar.

So armed with this fact, many symptoms are caused just by your breathing and you may not even be aware that is it shallower and more rapid. When you do not get a good O2 exchange the body reacts.

Main point – get in control, pick a rhythm – breath in and out equally.  If a woman hyperventilates of course she could breathe into a paper bag (kinda old school) or cup her hands over her mouth and breath in and out deeper and slower. One of the main keys is the concentration on the breathing, and that my friends is also a distraction. Another trick is to breath in slow hold for a several seconds and breath out even slower this also will help correct the 02 balance and the related symptoms will begin to disappear.   During this, take a few normal breaths in between your deep breathing (this give you something else to think about, distraction)  See what works for you and apply numbers if that helps – EX. breath in 4 sec. hold 3 seconds and out to the count of 5 or 6 or 7 ..You must keep it up or risk the fact that you could slid back into hyperventilating and the symptoms will linger.

As a side bar in other countries some childbirth classes instead of deep breathing, the mother is expected to sing out loud her way through contractions. I have tried this with mom’s that did not take classes and have found it also works.  Songs have a rhythm, and we normally breath at intervals. But concentrating on the words and rhythm is also a distraction. Choose a song you know well and do not rush it. Repeat the song as necessary.

Many may remember that you could change your breathing to a panting type of breath at the peak of a contraction the key to this type of shallow rapid breathing is that with the “ pant” you must  keep the breath in and out equal and  take deep breaths  along the way. 

Whatever method you choose practice it and adapt it to work for you. During labor and or an attack the last thing you want to do is focus on what your body is doing that which are a normal response… but to rise above and be in control.

Relaxation Coaching

You had better believe that relaxation is key to helping you get through labor as well as any anxiety attack. The process of labor, pain as well as adrenaline and fear of panic or anxiety attacks causes muscles to tense.

In labor we concentrate often on head, neck, and shoulder, relaxation. We coach the person verbally to relax each of these areas before and after each contraction.   Sometimes a light touch to where you want them to relax is very helpful.  Tension in these areas is most often visible. Tension makes shoulders rise and squeeze.  We tell them to relax their face a we notice eyebrows furrow or squeeze together. Remember in panic we must do things opposite than what we are experiencing. Sometimes the coach will gently lift the mom’s hands or arm just a few inches. This way they can check if she can just let it flop or not.   Systematically go through each part of the body to call it into relaxation. Repeat as necessary.  Once again, a distraction.  Get your eyes off your symptoms and onto a way to control them.

One last thing is that many classes stress having a focal point!  Something to concentrate on be it a photo or a place you go in your mind / imagination.  Many women bring in pictures of their other kids or an ultrasound of the baby.  Good reasons to just get past this unnecessary distraction.

Nugget:   Whatever breathing pattern or song you choose use them as a distraction and or choose a photo or a memory.  Get a good “Go To” person that will know how to help you through.   Find the best way to relax muscles.  Find what works for you.  Fight back – Fight Fear

( another post will soon follow about respiration. get this one under your belt first)

Published by: Your Path to Freedom

This blog is all about attacking panic attack and anxiety with a positive mindset. Not long ago a good friend disclosed he had been a victim of panic attack for 10 years. I never would have guessed! Isn't that what you would want for yourself? Through trial and error he found what worked for him and we want to share his path to freedom with you.