Whenever you say the words labor or childbirth you will usually imagine a woman huffing and puffing her way through labor. This patterned paced breathing is most commonly ascribed to Lamaze Childbirth Classes. Though this is not typically what is taught in most childbirth classes, including Lamaze classes these days.
The breathing that most childbirth classes concentrate on is deep, abdominal breathing. This form of breathing actually promotes relaxation. It also helps supply you and your baby with the most oxygen in labor.
This is a very natural form of breathing, so it is not difficult to master. The key is to watch your abdomen rise as you inhale and contract as you exhale. I always tell moms in my classes to, "Breathe to the baby." This gives them something to focus on while doing these breathing exercises. Doing so slowly will ensure good oxygenation of your blood and will begin to relax you without much effort at all. This type of breathing is the most important form of breathing for labor and birth.
You may also hear people talk about a cleansing breath. This is a deep breath at the beginning or end of a contraction to help center your mind on the work of labor, or to release any residual tension. It is also a good way to let those around you know that a contraction has begun or ended. It is simply a deep breath in and out. Sometimes you need to do this more than once to achieve the desired effects. You may also hear this referred to as the greeting or parting breath.
You can practice this type of breathing at any point throughout the day. Some women choose to practice with their partners just before bed, learning to add other forms of relaxation with the abdominal breathing. You might also try this at points in your day that you find stressful. Learn to create brief rituals that help you relax. This will serve you well in labor.
Once you get the hang of the deep abdominal breathing, you can use it for many instances, not just labor. This is a nearly perfect relaxation took because it works well for almost anything that requires you to calm yourself. This is also a great thing to teach to children.