During the first stage of labour when you cannot actively help the process of giving birth by pushing, you will find it useful to be able to relax the muscles in the rest of your body while the uterus gradually dilates the cervix. Between contractions you will be able to rest and perhaps even sleep a little.
Try practising the following routine regularly; eventually it will become so familiar that you will be able to relax your whole body at will wherever you are and in whatever position.
Lie on your back on the floor with cushions supporting you where necessary so that you feel comfortable. First concentrate on your pelvis, pushing out the small of your back so that your pelvis feels fully supported. Gently pull in your abdominal muscles and then slowly relax them. Drop your shoulders and feel your shoulder-blades flattening against the floor and your breastbone lifting slightly. With your palms upwards, stretch out your arms, hands and fingers and then feel them relax. Wriggle your toes and flex your feet; stretch your legs out and let them relax as well. Next, concentrate on your head and neck. With your chin down slightly, feel your neck press into the floor. Roll your head from side to side to make sure your neck muscles are relaxed. Then pull faces: raise your eyebrows, smile and grin, frown, open your jaw as far as it will go, screw up your eyelids, roll your eyes. Now relax – all over. Your breathing should be deep and calm.
Once you are relaxed you may like to go on to concentrate on tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles while the rest of your body remains relaxed.
Try lifting your elbow off the floor and then letting the muscles you used relax so that your arm falls back. Repeat this with other groups of muscles to increase your awareness of how they feel when they are tense and how you can actively relax them.
You will probably find that the best way to breath during labour will come naturally. However, if you are tense and nervous, concentrating on your breathing will help you relax. You can practise different breathing patterns with your partner. The important thing to remember throughout is to breathe rhythmically. If you start to feel dizzy because of overbreathing, breathe into cupped hands to reduce oxygen intake and increase the carbon dioxide level in your blood.
Apart from the different breathing patterns outlined here, there is one further technique which may be useful if you have to stop yourself from pushing towards the end of the first stage of labour because your cervix has not yet fully dilated. Take a light breath in, quickly followed by a light breath out which you should continue into a long exhalation. This will help to stop you pushing because the long breath out lifts the diaphragm off the uterus.