Lamaze breathing is a conscious breathing technique that focuses on slow, deep breaths. It is also known as the psychoprophylactic method. Conscious breathing can help a person feel relaxed and in control during labor.

Breathing is a central part of Lamaze, but the whole technique is about much more. According to Lamaze International, Dr. Fernand Lamaze introduced the original method in France in 1951. Dr. Lamaze pioneered the idea that teaching people relaxation and breathing techniques and educating them about what to expect during childbirth increased the likelihood of a safe and healthy natural birth.

He also advocated that people giving birth should have continuous emotional support from their loved ones, as well as medically trained professionals, during the birth.

This article explores the Lamaze technique, including its recommended birth practices and breathing techniques during each stage of labor. It also discusses other ways to prepare for giving birth.

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Alongside breathing techniques, the Lamaze method advocates six healthy birth practices. These are:

  • allowing labor to begin on its own
  • allowing the person giving birth to walk around and change positions during labor and delivery
  • encouraging continuous emotional support from a loved one, doula, or friend
  • avoiding unnecessary medical interventions
  • avoiding giving birth while lying on the back and encouraging the person in labor to follow their instincts to push
  • keeping the birthing parent and the baby together after the birth

Breathing techniques are still important, but Lamaze also teaches other strategies for coping with pain and relieving stress.

Lamaze breathing is a controlled, slow, deep breathing technique also known as conscious breathing. A 2021 study in the journal Medicine explains that — in combination with support from nurses or loved ones — it reduces labor pain and helps people relax, both physically and mentally. The study also found that people who have labor support and use Lamaze breathing have shorter labors, are more likely to have a vaginal birth and have less postpartum bleeding.

The original Lamaze method used structured breathing to draw a person’s attention from any pain and encourage relaxation. The study authors explain that people who use the techniques can gain confidence in their ability to give birth and remain calm during labor.

Lamaze originally taught people breathing techniques to manage the pain of childbirth and gave advice about when to use them. Today, Lamaze International encourages people to learn the techniques but says that there is no right way to breathe during labor.

Conscious breathing means that people control the rate at which they inhale and exhale, as well as how deeply they breathe.

With Lamaze, a cleansing breath is a slow, deep inhalation through the nose before an exhalation through the mouth.

Slowing down the breathing rate can help a person relax. Students of Lamaze learn to count as they inhale, then exhale at the same rate. People may find that this helps them relax between contractions.

Structured breathing involves taking two or three quick, shallow inhales and then a long exhale. This is the familiar “hee, hee, hoo” or “pant, pant, blow” that characterized early Lamaze training.

During the first stage of labor

Anecdotally, many people find that cleansing breaths help them relax and not focus on the pain. Consciously relaxing and breathing deeply keeps both the mother and baby oxygenated, which helps labor progress more smoothly and quickly and increases the rate of vaginal deliveries.

During active labor

Some people use a cleansing breath to signal the beginning and end of a contraction.

During active labor, people who rely on structured breathing may find that verbalizing their breathing helps them psychologically. However, making or not making sounds is a personal choice that does not change the effects of breathing.

Learn about the stages of labor.

It is essential to practice breathing techniques before labor to gain confidence in using them. During pregnancy, a person can try to find at least a few minutes of stillness each day, when they can turn their focus inward, slow down their breathing, and connect with their mind and body.

A daily check-in may involve silence, meditation, or prayer. It is a chance to try certain breathing techniques, such as the cleansing breath and structured breathing, to determine what feels good.

Lamaze International recommends focusing on each area of the body in turn and noticing any tension or discomfort that needs addressing.

Conscious breathing is a mindfulness exercise that has both physical and psychological benefits. A 2018 review in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience lists feelings of comfort and stress reduction among its benefits.

Learn more about body scan meditation.

Lamaze International recognizes that many people are fearful about giving birth and worried about the pain.

It recommends building confidence by learning about what happens to the body during labor and birth and how to navigate modern maternity care.

March of Dimes recommends that people write a birth plan outlining their preferences during and after labor. They can share the plan with hospital or birth center staff or other people who will be present during labor.

A birth plan can include Lamaze philosophies, such as being able to move freely, changing position during labor, and having access to food and drink. Some people also wish to delay routine procedures, such as weighing and measuring, until a few hours after the birth.

On a birth plan, a person can also state whether they would consider taking certain drugs during labor. They may also include any cultural or religious practices they wish to follow.

Lamaze breathing techniques, together with support from doulas, nurses, or other birth partners, increase the chances of a person having a vaginal birth.

Research has also shown that these techniques can shorten labor, relieve pain, and reduce the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.

Lamaze breathing techniques involve consciously slowing the rate of inhalation and exhalation and practicing mindful breathing.

Practitioners may teach different techniques for the different stages of labor, but there is no right or wrong way to breathe.

There is strong evidence supporting the idea that breathing techniques and continuous emotional support from either loved ones or healthcare professionals can increase the chances of a person having a natural birth without the need for medical interventions.