The deep focused breaths women take during labor can help dads during painful and stressful situations throughout life for a very specific scientific reason.
Lamaze is a set of relaxation techniques, movements, massages, and breathing meant to build a mother’s confidence in her ability to give birth. It’s a fairly rigid program — created from observations in Soviet Russia — that has become a rite of passage for expecting couples. The class itself is, admittedly, fairly boring for the partners who basically watch as moms-to-be breathe for an hour. But here’s some advice for the wearied dads out there: Breathe along and learn Lamaze for yourself. It’s a skill every man should have, one that comes with some serious health benefits.
Lamaze breathing can help manage pain, induce calm, increase focus, and even offer cardiovascular benefits. You don’t have to be bearing a child for any of these benefits to take effect. The reason: People are able to master the Lamaze breathing technique also master their autonomic nervous system, which consists of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous parts that either rev up the body and brain for battle or calm it down to cope with pain and stress.
Lamaze starts in the first stage of labor with deep inhales and a pause, followed by long exhales, known as organizing breaths. Organizing breaths are a crucial part of Lamaze at every stage of labor because they stimulate the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes people and prepares them to conserve energy. When a person takes a deep, focused breath, oxygen is sent through their bloodstream, which increases endorphins, decreases stress hormones, and lowers the heart rate and blood pressure.
Deep, focused breaths also reduce the risk of hyperventilating, which can conversely trigger the sympathetic nervous system and a fight or flight response. When people don’t get enough oxygen circulating in their brains, it is easier to slip into survival mode and lose all capacity for executive functioning. This makes the ability to control emotions or make complex decisions no longer an option.
The seemingly rapid “hee-hoo” breaths associated with Lamaze, or transition breathing, do not set off the same fight or flight responses because they occur in small, controlled increments with longer, deeper inhales and exhales that follow every four or five breaths. This keeps oxygen flowing and allows a person to maintain focus and a sense of control in contrast to freaking out completely.
“The technique utilizes the synchronization of deep, slow and quick breathing with the contractions during the labor process,” says Sashini Seeni, M.D., a General Practitioner of Medicine at DoctorOnCall, noting that this can easily be modified to focus on deep breaths in any situation other than contractions. “With modification, Lamaze breathing can be used for conditions like anxiety, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, insomnia, and even hypertension.”
Likewise, there is evidence that deep breathing can help dads manage physical pain, as well as their tempers in front of their children when they see red and don’t want to yell. Deep breathing has also been found to improve men’s athletic and sexual stamina and performance. And since breathing is something you have to do anyways, it is worth doing right.
As simple as remembering to breathe seems, it’s not something most people have the opportunity to learn as specifically as pregnant people do with Lamaze. And of course fathers should pay attention so they can help their partners in labor, but also so they can help themselves in life. They’re going to need that oxygen for when their babies grow up and start testing their patience.
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