Relaxation Techniques in Pregnancy & Labour

 by Suzanne Swan

"A strong intention, relaxed body and an open mind are the main ingredients for an Active Birth. It is the way a woman behaves when she is following her own instincts and the physiological logic of her body" Janet Balaskas

Remember Birth is instinctive and when left undisturbed women naturally choose relaxed, open body positions, utilise slow breathing patterns, make deep sounds and rhythmic movements to birth their babies safely.

Relaxation technique -  “consistent practice will move you from learning to knowing”

The relaxation response (Hubert Benson, 1996) is a bodily calm that all of us can evoke and it has the opposite effect of the well-known fight and flight response. The steps to evoking the relaxation response are simple. It is a state in which the blood pressure is lowered, the heart rate, breathing rate and metabolic rate are decreased, thus aiding the release of tension and deep-seated patterns.

The relaxation response is a state of focused awareness and can be evoked during meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, jogging or swimming. To elicit the response:

1. Progressively relax your muscles from your head to feet

2. Breathe slowly letting the exhalation become longer than your inhalation

3. Practice listening to the sound of your breath  or the sensation of the breath leaving the nostrils

4. As you inhale direct the breath into your womb, imagining the womb becoming light and full, learn to breathe feed your baby this way

5. Repeat a word, sound, prayer phrase silently to yourself as you exhale, experience all the tension washing away

6. Passively disregard everyday thoughts that come to mind and return to your repetition

7. Continue for 10- 20 minutes

8. Practice once or twice a day

When the mind quiets down, the body follows suit and this is a particularly useful practice during pregnancy and at birth. The nervous system of the unborn child can be healed of any prenatal disturbances when the mother’s muscular systems are progressively relaxed (Robert Newman, 2005).

Dr Gowri Motha (2004) is an English obstetrician who teaches deep relaxation skills as part of her birth preparation practices. She says that the quickest way to full dilation is through deep muscle relaxation, which improves blood flow to the whole body. In a state of relaxation, the brain exhibits alpha waves and these automatically result in the release of endorphins, the body’ natural painkillers. In labour, alpha waves also increase the release of the hormone oxytocin and cause the muscles within the pelvis to become elastic. You may experience much less discomfort.