Breath Exercises for Pregnancy
October 1, 2019
Our breath is powerful. When managed mindfully, it can help reduce stress and tension, lower blood pressure, and some studies suggest, even reduce pain and discomfort.1,2 While breathing is an involuntary function healthy bodies do automatically, there are certain techniques we can employ to control our breathing, de-stress and improve our feelings of well-being. In this post, we will discuss the benefits of breathing exercises to de-stress and highlight a few specific breathing techniques that expecting moms can practice.
Stress Response Versus Relaxation Response
Most people have heard of the “fight-or-flight” response, a term that describes the body’s natural way of preparing to confront or evade danger. Although the fight-or-flight response (also known as the stress response) is natural and necessary, long-term problems may occur if a person is continually experiencing this reaction in response to everyday stresses.
In a life-or-death situation, the stress response is necessary for our survival; however, our bodies and brains can experience the stress response as a result of minor or everyday stresses such as traffic jams, workplace conflict or arguments with a spouse. We cannot avoid all stress, so the key is learning how to effectively manage our responses to it. One way to do that is to learn how to invoke the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a technique that was developed by cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson in the 1970s. This technique employs deep, slow breathing (DSB) as well as other relaxation activities that help put the mind and body in a state of profound rest.
Benefits of Deep, Slow Breathing (DSB)
Focusing on deep, slow breaths can help lower heart rate, stabilize blood pressure and reduce mental stress by allowing us to disengage from distracting or disturbing thoughts.1 For many people, deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing) feels unnatural. This is usually because most people have become accustomed to shallow breathing (breathing in and out through the chest muscles) even though it is not our bodies’ natural way of breathing. Shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion, preventing the lower part of the lungs from receiving their full share of oxygenated air.1 By contrast, deep diaphragmatic breathing encourages the full exchange of oxygenated air throughout the lungs.1
Other benefits of DSB may include:
- Helping to manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)3
- Improving core muscle stability3
- Helping to regulate autonomic nervous system (ANS), the system that is in charge of bodily processes such as digestion and metabolism3
Breathing Exercises to Try
Below are a few simple techniques you can incorporate into your everyday routine.
Technique I: Mindful Focused Breathing.
Find a quiet place, free from distraction. Sit or lie down in a comfortable position and start by breathing normally. After taking a normal breath, try taking a slow, deep breath. Breathe in through your nose, slowly and steadily. Allow your chest and stomach to rise as you fill your lungs. Finally, breathe out through your mouth, exhaling completely. If you feel like breathing out through your nose is more natural, do that. Repeat this for several breaths, focusing on your breath. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring your focus back to your breath. After a few minutes, you will likely feel more relaxed and less stressed.
Technique II: Mindful Breathing with Positive Imagery.
Follow the steps above, but this time incorporate a relaxing image or word to focus on during your breathing. Anything could work, as long as it is something that makes you feel relaxed. It could be an image of a mountain stream, your favorite song lyric, or perhaps something from childhood that makes you feel safe and comfortable, like your grandmother’s rocking chair.
Technique III: Everyday Mindful Breathing.
Sometimes we feel stressed at the most inopportune times. For instance, we might find ourselves become tense and stressed when we’re in the middle of a presentation for work, or while watching our children play in a sports tournament. During these moments, it’s not exactly practical to go find a quiet place so you can practice mindful breathing. While a quiet space is great for relaxation, it is not required for deep, slow breathing. Wherever you are, whatever is happening around you, take a moment to bring your focus to your breathing. Are you breathing through your chest? If so, consciously move your breath to your belly and diaphragm. Take slow, deep breaths and feel the air go in through your nose. Exhale fully before you inhale again. If you get distracted or notice that you feel tension, simply bring your focus back to your breath. This can be done while sitting at your work desk, while driving in your car, while having coffee with a friend … literally anywhere!
Breathing Exercises and Pregnancy
For expecting mothers, finding ways to comfortably and deeply breathe can be a challenge. As pregnancy moves further along, an expecting mom’s belly expands and her baby takes up more space within her abdomen. This can cause discomfort for many expecting women. By practicing deep, slow breathing techniques, pregnant women may be able to reduce tension and relax mentally, putting them in a more mindful state of well-being – which can be beneficial to both mom and baby!4
How Nutrition and Diet Affect Emotional Health
Deep, mindful breathing exercises may help maintain well-being during pregnancy, and can be an integral part of your overall pregnancy health plan. Including prenatal vitamins in this plan may also be highly beneficial, as maintaining a healthy diet and getting enough nutrition serves symbiotically to improve emotional health.5 Not sure how the two are connected? Think of it this way: if your body was a car, wouldn’t it perform better if it was filled with premium fuel? Likewise, your brain will function better when your body receives the proper nutrition. Poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency have been linked with mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.5 Therefore, maintaining a healthy nutritional plan may support mental well-being.
Prenate® Vitamin Family
Consider Prenate® Vitamin Family as part of a healthy pregnancy and overall nutritional health plan. Prenate® offers a complete line of prescription prenatal vitamins created to support positive pregnancy outcomes and meet the changing nutritional needs of expecting mothers. Talk to your doctor to see if the Prenate® Vitamin Family’s prenatal vitamins are right for you.