Breathing exercises during pregnancy will allow you to stay relaxed, focused and support adequate oxygen delivery to the fetus and your body. The safest and easiest way to achieve that is by breathing slow, softly, and nasally in a seated position.
The purpose of the article is for educational purposes only. Prior to practicing, consult your primary physician.
Your breath is going to change throughout pregnancy. If you want to learn:
• How will your breath change during these 9 months?
• Which breathing exercises are safe in the 1st trimester?
• How to breathe in order to support oxygen delivery to the fetus?
Benefits of breathing exercises during pregnancy
Different breathing exercises during pregnancy can help:
- You improve blood circulation and thus oxygen and nutrient delivery to the fetus and your body organs.
- Keep your muscles relaxed, alleviating some of the tension some times builds up due to stress
- Keep your nervous system calm
- Breathe comfortably, while the natural increase of progesterone and the growth of the baby will make breathing harder.
Women at risk of premature labor benefited from massage therapy, breathwork, and hypnotic relaxation while the type of delivery and duration of labor was shown to positively correlate with having practiced yoga (ref). So…
Breathwork increases your chances of an easy pregnancy.
Is breathwork safe for pregnancy?
Breathwork is safe in pregnancy provided the new mother has developed awareness of her breathing first. In the absence of prior experience, breath holds and breathing techniques involving hyperventilation should be avoided as they can cause oxygen deprivation to the fetus.
A few red flags 🚩 are:
🚩 You have pre-existing health conditions. If you previously experienced any neurological, cardiovascular or blood sugar regulation conditions you should be extra cautious and work with an instructor.
🚩 Gestational diabetes. Lowering of O2 saturation can cause a sudden drop of 🩸 blood sugar. While some breathing exercises will be appropriate using an oximeter during practice is highly advisable.
🚩 The use of medication. This, of course, is a case-by-case scenario and actually, there are very few counterindications. It is worth checking with your physician first though.
Having said that, during the 9 months of pregnancy life doesn’t stop. Pregnant women perform cardio workouts, swim, and practice yoga all of which directly challenge the respiratory system. As the focus of all breathing sessions during these 9 months will be to make breathing comfortable at no point there should be a loss of consciousness or strong air hunger.
To be extra cautious with breathwork you can invest in an oximeter which will allow you to monitor continuously both your HR and SPO2.
When to start breathing exercises during pregnancy?
Breathing exercises that involve either monitoring the breath or slow manipulation of the inhalation and exhalation can be performed from the very start and can help deal with nausea, cramps, and lower back pain.
At what point in pregnancy does it become hard to breathe?
Shortness of breath is common both at the start of the pregnancy due to an increase in the progesterone hormone and around weeks 31-34 when the uterus is likely to press against the diaphragm.
During the 3rd trimester and as the fetus grows the pressure in the lungs increases limiting lung capacity. The additional weight of the fetus will also tax the cardiovascular system and thus the respiratory. It is often at that stage that breathing becomes labored even during simple tasks such as walking and laying down.
How can I increase my oxygen levels during pregnancy?
To maintain oxygen delivery to the fetus and your organs you need to maintain adequate levels of CO2 (due to the Bohr effect). Did you know that CO2 has therapeutic properties? This can be achieved by breathing as softly as possible through the nose 👃🏼, making the exhalations x1-2 longer than the inhalations.
Start by breathing in for 4 seconds out for 4 seconds. If that feels comfortable gradually increase the exhalations to 6 seconds and then 8 seconds.
Within 10 mins you will feel a lot better.
3 best breathing exercises during pregnancy
Synchronize heart and belly breathing
Place one hand ✋🏼 on the chest and one 🤚🏼 on the belly, in a seated position and with your back supported 🪑. As you inhale feel your hands moving. You may notice 1 of the 2 hands moving more than the other. Try to expand both parts of your body (chest and belly) evenly. Perform that for 5 mins and then place your hands on your knees. Recover your regular breathing but keep your attention on your chest and belly.
Ujjayi breath is achieved by constricting the back of the throat during exhalation creating a deep sibilant breath 🌊. As Timothy McCall mentions in his book: Yoga as Medicine, the constriction can be generated by imitating that you are trying to fog your glasses. The breath should be performed through the nose at all times. When practitioners are starting out they may find it easier to produce an audible sound 🔊, but over time the sound becomes so gentle that is hard to notice 🤫.
Alternative Nostril Breathing
In Alternative Nostril Breathing, the inhalation and the exhalation of each cycle take place from a different nostril and the direction reverses at the end of each cycle. Start by breathing in from the right nostril, exhale from the left, breathe in from the left, exhale from the right…
FAQ about breathing for pregnant women
Is belly breathing, good for pregnancy?
The reason I don’t recommend belly breathing during pregnancy is due to the tension it can bring to the abdominal muscles, increasing this way the risk of abdominal diastasis❗️ A safer recruitment of the diaphragm, is through the slow inflation of the lungs 🫁, and outward expansion of the ribcage.
Pelvic floor contractions have also been shown to improve respiration (ref), while experienced practitioners will have no problem performing belly breathing without tensing their abdominals (and thus staying safe).
Breathwork for pregnancy 🤰🏻 is very powerful yet it is much easier to practice if you have prior experience. Knowing that if you planning on getting pregnant in the next 6 months start soon❗️