Breathing, contractions, transition, and snacking during labour

Questions on breathing, contractions, transition, and snacking during labour from a mom very-soon-to-be:

Hello Catherine,

I am 38 weeks pregnant with my first baby and I have some questions for you about labour.

What kinds of breathing techniques helped you during labour?

And did you practise these beforehand or did you naturally know how to breathe during contractions?

What do the contractions feel like in early stage 1?

Do they feel a lot different than the Braxton-Hicks contractions?

I’m worried about the transition stage. What are some tips to help cope at this stage of labour?

What are some good snacks to eat during labour? 

Do you recommend any books for my husband to read to help him prepare as a labour support?

thanks so much!



Dear Amanda,

What an exciting time this must be for you. You are in what I call the watch and wait phase of pregnancy. With every Braxton-Hicks you will wonder if this is the beginning of real labour. How will you know if it is real labour? The contractions will be regular and consistent. They will increase in intensity and they will feel like a sweeping wave tightening across your entire abdomen.

As far as breathing techniques, I used breathing patterns for every labour. Have you taken Lamaze classes? It helps to practice breathing and relaxing techniques before labour. I would do this with your husband as he can help you during labour especially when you feel that the contractions are overwhelming. He can help you get back on track should you lose focus. The internet is quite helpful for locating information on Lamaze techniques. It is important to remember that any technique you use will not necessarily diminish pain during labour but it will help you cope with that pain. I found that walking during my contractions and standing during a contraction were most helpful.

Most women are concerned and worried how they will cope during the transition stage of labour. The most important aspect to remember is that this is the SHORTEST stage of labour. Keep telling yourself this. Say it over and over again. SHORT, SMALL, LEAST,…… whatever adjective you can think of to minimize the effect of this stage of labour.

Breathing technique is helpful and taking one contraction at a time. During this time the contractions may pile on top of each other but there is always a bit of a downhill segment when you can get a second to let go and relax before trudging uphill again. Also, visualize the contraction opening your cervix and moving your babe closer to delivery. I would try and think of the cervix expanding for my baby’s head. In that way you are working with your body instead of trying to fight it. If you can see that your pain during a contraction is for a purpose, it will help you cope and focus on getting to the next point. I have always been up or at least sitting up during this stage. Some women like to be in a bath during this time. I needed to move with the pain. Some women need to vocalize during this time. For me, I became very quiet as it was such an intense experience. There is no right or wrong way to get through this period of time. You know yourself and your body and you might try to come up with a game plan for this stage of labour. What ever you do, don’t look at the clock or ask how long you have been in transition. Let your husband take care of that aspect and he should help you focus on one contraction at a time. He also can encourage you and tell you what a great job you are doing. You are free to let him know that he better be extremely thankful that you are doing all the work to get this baby out!

As far as snacking during labour, you will need to eat something that is easily digested. A banana, peanut butter on crackers, candy you can suck on, ice chips….. I was never very hungry during this time and often became quite nauseated during the later stages so I stuck with the ice chips. You do not want to put a lot of food in your stomach while having contractions.

I hope this is of help to you. I can elaborate more if you have more questions.

This is such an exciting time in your life and it brings back so many memories for me. We were so ready to take on the role of parenting and had no idea how much we would need to learn in the days ahead. Our blissful ignorance was a blessing in that I really did not worry about what lay ahead.

Enjoy each day and be confident in yourself that you have what it takes to get through labour. Holding your newborn is the sweetest moment in a mother’s life.

You are going to do just fine,

you are ready.

Blessings for you and your family,


About Catherine

Catherine is a mum who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia; she and her husband, Robb, have ten children, and have operated a family medical practice for thirty years. This blog is a place she shares thoughts and answers questions -- especially from other moms, but from anyone! -- about pregnancy and child-rearing, marriage, sickness and health, and lots of other things.
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