5 Key Pre/Post-Natal Breathing Exercises to Help You During & After Pregnancy

Pre/Post-Natal Breathing Exercises blog featured image

Pregnancy is a wonderful and transformative journey marked by a wide range of physical and emotional changes.

As expectant mothers navigate this experience, prioritising their health becomes incredibly important. One crucial aspect of prenatal (and, indeed, postnatal) care involves incorporating effective breathing exercises into daily routines. These exercises not only promote relaxation and stress relief but also contribute to overall maternal health and well-being during pregnancy.

If you’re reading this article, you or your loved one are probably going through an exciting, yet challenging time right now. So below, we’ll explain five key breathing exercises specifically designed to support expectant mothers – enhancing comfort, managing discomfort and fostering a sense of calm throughout the beautiful journey of pregnancy.

Importance of Breathing Exercises During & After Pregnancy

Both during and after your pregnancy, you’re going to experience a world of changes. Both inside your body, and out. This can include a faster breathing rate and heartbeat, a changing body, shifts in lifestyle and swinging moods.

Breathing exercises play a vital role throughout your body – strengthening core muscles, improving posture and enhancing overall well-being

Here are some key benefits of incorporating breathing exercises into your daily routine both when and after you are pregnant:

Enhanced Core Strength

Breathing exercises target the deep core muscles, including the diaphragm, transverse abdominis and pelvic floor.

Strengthening these muscles is crucial for restoring abdominal strength and stability during and after pregnancy.

Stress Relief and Relaxation

Pregnancy can be overwhelming, with new responsibilities and adjustments.

Engaging in breathing exercises promotes relaxation, reduces stress levels and encourages a sense of calmness and well-being. It allows you to pause and sit with the amazing new life growing inside of you.

Helping Heal Diastasis Recti

Diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles, is common during pregnancy. Breathing techniques can help close the gap and support the healing of diastasis recti.

5 Key Pre-Natal & Post-Natal Breathing Exercises to Perform

Breathing exercises are essential both during and after pregnancy.

These exercises target core muscles, improve posture, and promote overall welfare.

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Responding to stress and anxiety often involves shallow breathing primarily from the upper chest.

However, actively engaging the diaphragm in breathing, known as diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, can help alleviate anxiety and stress symptoms while promoting relaxation in the body.

  • Begin by inhaling deeply, allowing your belly to expand as you breathe in through your nose.
  • Then exhale slowly and softly through your nose, allowing the belly to draw in.
  • Repeat this cycle for several breaths, focusing on the expansion and relaxation of your lower abdomen.

We know that sometimes for busy parents, it can be challenging to find space to simply breathe. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique that can be used at any time to calm a racing mind, help you to feel more settled and connect with your little one.

PrePost-Natal Breathing Exercises

2. Cyclical Breathing

Cyclical breathing, sometimes referred to as rhythmic or patterned breathing, offers numerous benefits that can positively impact both physical and mental well-being.

Gentle inhalations followed by slow, slightly extended exhalations, trigger the body’s relaxation response, leading to a decrease in heart rate, muscle tension, and overall feelings of anxiety.

Cyclical breathing is an effective technique for managing stress during pregnancy. Here’s how to execute the technique properly:

  • Relax. Sit down or lie on your side, if you are pregnant to avoid pressure on your abdominal area.
  • Take slow, deep breaths through your nostrils, allowing your abdomen to expand fully rather than your chest.
  • Release your breath slowly through your nose or mouth, allowing your body to let go of any tension.
  • Create a rhythm whereby your exhale is slightly longer than your inhale to enhance relaxation by lowering your rate.
  • Inhale through your nose for a count of 3 or 4, then exhale through your nose for a count of 5 or 6.
  • Maintain this breathing rhythm for 5 to 10 minutes, concentrating on the cadence of your breath and the deepening sensation of relaxation with each repetition.

This is a great technique to use whenever you feel overwhelmed or you simply need to reset. The women we work with also love to use this breathing technique whilst feeding their babies to help them feel calm and connected.

3. Interval Breathing

Interval breathing, also called box breathing (or four-square breathing), offers several notable benefits.

Interval breathing during your pregnancy helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, leading to a decrease in stress hormones like cortisol and an increase in relaxation responses.

This makes interval breathing an effective technique for managing anxiety, improving mood and enhancing overall emotional welfare.

  • Position yourself comfortably, whether sitting or lying down, ensuring your body feels supported.
  • Inhale gently through your nose, filling your lungs and belly with air.
  • Pause your breath for four counts, allowing the oxygen to circulate throughout your body.
  • Exhale slowly through your Nose, releasing all the air and any tension.
  • At the end of the exhale, pause and hold your breath for another count of four.
  • Continue this pattern for several minutes.

NOTE: If a count of 4 feels too strong for you, reduce this cycle to a smaller box of 2 or 3. The aim of this exercise is to feel relaxed, not challenged.

As a pregnant mum with a toddler, it can be challenging to stay patient and present in every moment, the way that I would like to be.
Box breathing has been my saviour. I use this technique in the heat of the moment when I feel my patience is wavering. The small pauses between the breaths feel like they give me just enough space to reset, helping me to respond to my little one (and life), instead of reacting. I'm so grateful for these small pauses between my breath.

4. Alternative Nostril Breathing

Alternate nostril breathing, also known as pranayama, offers several benefits specifically tailored to support pregnant women.

The controlled inhalations and exhalations trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, leading to a decrease in stress hormones and an increase in relaxation. Here’s how to do it:

  • Adopt a comfortable seated position with your legs crossed and spine erect.
  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb
  • Breathe-in deeply through your left nostril.
  • Switch sides. Close your left nostril and release your right nostril.
  • Exhale slowly through your right nostril. Inhale deeply through your right nostril.
  • Switch. Close your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril.
  • Repeat this several times, focusing on the smooth flow of breath through both of your nostrils.

5. Lamaze Breathing (during childbirth)

Lamaze advocates concentrated breathing techniques to alleviate the sensation of pain during childbirth

Conscious breathing (especially slow breathing) reduces heart rate, anxiety and perception of pain.

When allowed and encouraged to, your body will naturally move, sway & change breathing patterns to ride the sensations of contractions, eventually finding the right rhythm for your unique needs. This intuitive action helps the baby rotate and descend.

  • As contractions arise and begin to intensify, focus on your breathing.
  • Consciously slow your breath down, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  • As the waves of contractions rise, allow your breathing rate to increase, whilst maintaining conscious control over your inhalation and exhalation.
  • Concentrate on a visual focal point or visualise a serene setting while performing the technique.
  • In between contractions, take 2 slow cleansing breaths to reset your body, then continue with your focused slow breathing.
  • During the active phase of labour, you can actively use your breath to reduce pain and enhance focus. Take 5-10 fast breaths, followed by 2 slow controlled breaths. Repeat this cycle.

My labour came on fast. I was at home alone in the morning with my toddler, while my husband was at work. I phoned my husband and the midwife, to let them know our baby was on the way.

I had practised slow and conscious breathing throughout my pregnancy and had planned to utilise the power of breath during my labour. I began with slow breathing to help to calm my body and my nerves at being home alone. This allowed me to be present in my body and to trust that my body had the intuitive knowledge it needed to birth our new baby.

As the contractions intensified, so did my breathing. Focusing on my breathing allowed me to tune out all other sensations. In between contractions, I focused on slowing my breathing and tuning into my body. This experience felt surreal, timeless. I felt my body take over, as my breathing showed the trust that I had in its intuitive knowledge.

Our baby was safely born in our living room, with a supportive toddler by my side. The midwife and my husband arrived 30 minutes later to mum and bub resting in bed. Using my breath allowed me to have a birth that I can only describe as beautiful.

Looking to improve your breathing techniques during & after your pregnancy?

If you’re looking to further improve your breathing techniques to help you get through pregnancy, consider enrolling in our breathwork classes.

Our courses are perfect for pregnant mothers, providing expert guidance on pre-natal and post-natal breathing exercises.

To learn more about breathwork training and breathwork workshops near you, click here or join the free 21-Day Master Your Breath Program with Breathless.

Bek’s passion resides in optimising human performance, movement and health. Her philosophy revolves around educating and empowering her clients toward their health goals.

She promotes Breath as our life force, and the way we use this life force can not only help to heal our body but can help to improve our focus, reduce anxiety & enhance our athletic ability.

Her approach to optimising performance and health is holistic and she is invested in her local community in Newcastle. Bek works with representative football and athletic clubs and is blessed to support a range of national Olympic-level athletes.

Outside her practice, you will find me competing in endurance races, throwing around heavy weights in her garage, sitting in cold water, hiking in nature or cooking with family.

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