To Push or Not To Push?

If I was to ask you to imagine a woman in the final throws of labour, what would spring to mind? 

She’s more than likely lying on a bed, looking pretty tired, being told when to push by her midwife as her beloved partner holds her hand and looks adoringly at her, albeit with a slightly scared look in their eyes.

Am I right?

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What if I told you that that is precisely what should NOT be happening.

Quite a bold statement I know, but it’s one that is based on scientific research and evidence based facts.

Let’s try a little something out.

Take a practice run at “pushing your baby out”. Often when we push we hold our breath, and we bare down. (If you are pregnant please be careful here!)

What sensations do you feel in your body? What are your muscles doing? Do you feel as though you are making space in your body? Or does it feel like everything is tightening and closing in?

The very action of pushing causes our bodies to do the exact opposite of what is needed during that final phase of labour. Pushing contracts our bodies down instead of opening them up. It also exerts excess energy, exhausting mothers, and putting undue stress on the baby, resulting in their heart rates dropping and a rise in interventions such as episiotomy, forceps delivery and emergency C–Section. Baring down so forcefully also puts stress upon the perineum and pelvic floor meaning the chances of tearing and sustaining pelvic floor injuries are also much higher.

“Pushing” is something that was introduced in the 1920s when doctors decided that the second phase of labour was dangerous for babies and they needed to be delivered as quickly as possible. It was only in the 70s that they realised that this phase of labour is actually beneficial for babies, as it stimulates their respiratory and digestive systems, and that actually there was nothing wrong with them making their descent slowly and gently.

So, if we shouldn’t push what should we do instead?

You’ve heard about people “breathing their baby out”? I’m sure you’ve scoffed at it many a time but let me tell you, it’s no joke. Using our breath in the correct way is a powerful tool that we can use in the final stages of labour to help birth our baby as naturally as possible. By using our breath we are sending as much oxygen to our uterine muscles as we can, meaning they are working to their optimum at a time when they need to be efficient. Labour can be long, and I’ll be honest, it should be. It’s better for our bodies to open gently and smoothly, and that takes time. By the time we get to this final phase our muscles will have been going at it for a seriously long time and will need as much oxygen and energy as possible. It’s much like a marathon. You don’t want to over exert yourself, you want to conserve as much energy as you can so you make it to the finish line unaided. Using our breath and not pushing is the best way to do this during labour.

This technique will also be maintaining the “space” within our uterus that we have created during the early phase of labour, meaning the baby has more room to move down the birth canal with ease. By not pushing we’re also not putting any undue stress onto the baby, our perineum or our pelvic floor.

Make sense?

So, how exactly do we breath a baby out?

The technique is called the Golden Thread Breath and is a breath used in yoga, hypnobirthing and I also teach it as part of my Conscious Birth Course. Here’s how to do it:

  • Take a sharp deep inhalation in through your nose.

  • Through pursed lips slowly and gently push the breath through your lips as if you were blowing a golden thread out through them.

  • Exhale slowly.

  • Whilst doing the breath visualise your baby moving effortlessly down the birth canal.

  • See video below for practical instructions.

Give it a try.

How does it feel?

Can you feel how your body actually naturally bares down when you do this breath? The downward force is soft but powerful enough to work with your uterine muscles to work the baby gently down the birth canal.

Try this breath when you next need to go to the toilet for a number 2 and it’ll give you faith in how working with breath is a wonderfully powerful way to birth your baby. Pregnancy poos never felt so easy!

Conventional birth also forgets to educate us on the cervix and how actually the baby isn’t coming straight down when it’s birthed. The cervix is actually shaped like a J, and so by visualising the baby moving down through a J formation whilst doing this breath actually helps birth your baby more efficiently.

Unfortunately unless we’re seasoned yogis, we don’t find it easy to use breath in this way and actually our natural instinct will be to push so I can’t stress enough how important it is to practice this breath once you’ve reached 36 weeks. Soon enough your body will become accustomed to breathing in this way and you’ll be prepared to do so when you’re in labour.

Ask your birth partner to communicate to your midwife that you don’t want to be coached into pushing, and get them to coach you through this easy and powerfully effective breath instead. The only time we should push is once the baby’s head is crowning. A few final pushes at this stage will help your baby ease its shoulders and body out. Beautiful.