Breathing During Pregnancy

Some pregnant women feel that once the baby begins to take up more space they notice that they have an increasingly difficult time breathing or their breath has become more “shallow”. 

There are two reasons why this is happening. The diaphragm muscle gets forced upwards as the expanding uterus (and everything in between the uterus and the upper part of the abdominal cavity) as baby gets larger. 

Empty space has to be available in the thoracic cavity to enable the lungs to fully expand during inhalation, usually this empty space is created by the belly (the abdominal cavity) protruding as we breathe in.  

However, there is very little possibility for the breath to be forceful enough to push the uterus out of the way in order for the lungs to expand since the abdominal cavity is filled with a uterus containing a baby and some amniotic fluid. 

Inevitably, a limited amount of space is available, so the capacity for a deep inhale is reduced, leaving us unable to breathe as freely as usual.

Our breathing patterns should be adjusted to accommodate these new circumstances so as to be more comfortable. 

As a uterus grows during pregnancy, it can push up onto the diaphragm muscle and cause breathing to become harder. 

When pregnant, our body often finds a different, easier way to breath. 

It is common for our bodies to engage in chest and shoulder breathing while pregnant to enable us to breathe comfortably. 

If you begin to become aware of your breathing while pregnant, you may find that you breathe quite shallowly, drawing a breath high in the chest and perhaps raising your shoulders with each inhalation. 

This type of shallow breathing fails to meet the physical demands of a pregnant body and leads to toxins being trapped in the body. Only 10% of the lungs are being exchanged per breath. 

Additionally, shallow chest breathing leads to neck and shoulder tension, which can lead to a lot of energy being trapped in the upper body, rather than being used down to the abdomen and uterus, where all the action occurs.

It can be frightening to experience feeling short of breath. Being short of breath while in labour can be terrifying. During labour, feeling short of breath and fearful can lead to:

  • an increased level of muscular tension;
  • the uterus and the baby are depleted of oxygen because of increased oxygen intake by the arms and the legs;
  • elevated blood pressure;
  • labor that is painful and progresses very slowly (as the stress hormones will impair the production of labour hormones)
  • increased medical intervention may be more likely in order to manage the labour.

Learn to breathe during pregnancy in a manner that adapts to the circumstances and allows you to take in as much air as possible will help prevent this domino effect of fear. 

If our diaphragm can’t move due to a full uterus, where is there enough space to breathe deeply?

There are three dimensions to an inhalation, and pregnancy only restricts one of these dimensions. The latter two levels can be used to breathe fully.

As Leslie Kaminoff (The Breathing Project, New York City) says, “Breath is shape change (in the cavities of the body). Shape change in the abdominal and thoracic cavities leads to shape change in the spine”. 

This means that the shape of the spine must also change as a result of filling and expanding the abdominal cavity during pregnancy. 

Therefore, the space needed to breathe during pregnancy is made available by the change in shape of the spine, allowing breathing to now take place in two other dimensions.

So given the vertical dimension is restricted by the pregnancy and previous habitual up-down breathing, a woman’s breath will become very restricted and shallow. It requires training to access these other 2 dimensions and to encourage 3D breathing that only becomes available during pregnancy. 

A pregnant woman can avoid some of the uncomfortable symptoms of shallow breathing experienced by many during the later stages of her pregnancy if she is taught to use all three of her breathing dimensions.

Online birth preparation courses can teach you healthy breathing patterns during pregnancy.

It has been shown that many women develop new breathing habits in pregnancy, and despite the fact that these new breathing habits were developed specifically for a pregnant woman’s needs, women do not always return to our preferred breathing patterns after the baby is born. 

While the diaphragmatic pressure has decreased after pregnancy, we often fail to return to a deeper pattern of breathing without conscious awareness of the changes taking place. 

Postnatal breath training is available in online postnatal support programs as well.

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