Lamaze breathing is series of breathing exercises that is part of the Lamaze method developed in 1951 by Dr. Ferdinand Lamaze, a French obstetrician, to provide a drug-free, natural way to manage the pain and stress of childbirth. The Lamaze method consists of childbirth education classes, relaxation techniques, active participation of the father as "coach" in the birth process and specific breathing techniques. Lamaze breathing is an integral part of the Lamaze method. After determining a baseline, or normal breathing pattern, there are four types of breath patterns involved in Lamaze breathing: cleansing, slow, blowing and patterned breathing.
The cleansing breath is used to begin and end the Lamaze breathing cycle. It is a calming breath that is used at the beginning and end of uterine contractions. The breath is accomplished by breathing in as slowly and as deeply as possible through the nose and exhaling at the same rate through the mouth.
After the cleansing breath, the next step in Lamaze breathing usually is the slow breath. Slow breathing is breathing that inhales to a count of three, four or five and exhales to the same count. Slow breathing also is used as a calming breath, but with more focus.
Blowing breath describes a soft, shallow breath which is used after relaxation has occurred to prolong relaxation. How soft this breath is can be demonstrated when one holds a piece of paper a few inches from the mouth and breathes. The paper should softly flutter upon exhalation. This is the Lamaze breathing done in between contractions.
The Lamaze breathing used during contractions is the patterned breath. The patterned breath consists of a soft inhale with two to four rapid exhales. For example, on a four-count exhale, the sound made would be "hee, hee, hee," with a quick inhale before ending with an exhale of "hoo." The patterned breath is used for the duration of the contraction.
These breathing patterns are taught and reinforced at each Lamaze method childbirthing class. The techniques are not difficult, but the practice is important to the process. After practicing these breathing techniques for the nine months of pregnancy, they become almost second nature to the mother and to the father, who will coach and guide breathing during the birth.
The Lamaze breathing technique was developed for the childbirth experience, but it can be used by anyone as an effective relaxation technique. The breaths do not have to be performed in any particular order. They can be used in any number of combinations to suit individual relaxation goals.