Common Breathing Mistakes in Motherhood – And How to Fix Them
Breathing. A subconscious action we do over and over again, day in – day out, taking around 20,000 breaths per day. The problem is, many of us aren’t aware of how we are breathing…or how we should be breathing. When we are born the lungs, diaphragm (the muscle below your lungs) and intercostal muscles (the muscles between the ribs) all naturally flow in unison. Then somewhere along the road we retrain ourselves to breathe…and not in the right way.
Here are the top 2 breathing mistakes that mamas struggle with (myself included) and how you can fix them!
1. Breathing with your mouth
Many mamas, especially when pregnant, experience so many physical and physiological changes which can lead to mouth breathing. One of the main culprits for this is the increased hormones vital for baby’s development. Progesterone stimulates respiration while estrogen can relax the mucus membranes in the nose, both which can lead to mouth breathing. Another issue is that as the uterus grows it begins to take up more space, leaving less room for the diaphragm to move. It can feel “harder” to breathe so you may find yourself taking in quick, short mouthfuls of air.
Why does this matter?
Mouth breathing, over time, restricts the airways so they loosen and become thinner. You also take in less oxygen (than when breathing from your nose), feeling like you’re gasping for more air, which in turn causes you to continue mouth breathing. This also causes many mamas-to-be to snore or have sleep apnea (where briefly you stop breathing) which can cause many restless nights.
So what can you do?
Focus on inhaling through your nose. The best way to do so is to consciously practice simple breathing exercises, which you can then use for labor and delivery. My favorite is Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti). Focus on inhaling only through the nose for a count of 3,4 or 5 and then exhale for the same amount of time. Feel free to take the exhales out through the mouth. Click here to try it out!
Breathing through the nose filters the air and you are able to take in more oxygen. It also puts pressure on the airways which helps to widen them, creating space to take in more oxygen with every breath.
2. Shallow (Chest) Breathing
So many of us mamas suffer from“shallow breathing” – where we take short, quick breaths that only use about 1/3 (if that) of our actual lung capacity. Maybe we don’t have the correct posture for the breath to move freely (hello rounded shoulders from feeding baby or working all day hunched over a computer). Maybe we wear tight, restrictive clothing or are constantly sucking in our post-baby tummies. Or maybe we are living in a constant stream of stress and anxiety from our jobs, motherhood, meeting deadlines, running errands and just keeping up with life.
Why does this matter?
When we shallow breathe, this sends signals to the body that we are stressed, which in turn makes us continue with more shallow breathing. It becomes this cyclical pattern within the body (and mind) and you might not even be aware you are doing it! This type of breathing might also cause stiff shoulders and tight necks which tends to lead to postural changes such as rounded shoulders….which every mother suffers from at some point in her postpartum journey!
So, what can you do?
A great place to start is with diaphragmatic breathing – click here to it try now! The diaphragm is the main muscle involved in breathing which isn’t activated while “shallow breathing”. When you use the diaphragm you start to use all of your lung capacity which in turn sends more oxygen throughout the body while taking less breaths. Think of it as doing less but getting way more out of each and every breath.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps to strengthen your respiratory system, lower blood pressure, normalize your heart rate, balance your nervous system, lower stress, anxiety and anger, relax and calm the mind.
If you see that you fall into one (or both) of these breathing mistakes that is 100% okay! Most mothers do! The good news is you can start right now to correct either of these breathing habits RIGHT NOW! It is never to late to start breathing through your nose, strengthen your diaphragm, increase your lung capacity, correct your posture and create a breathing practice that supports you to live better…and longer!
Happy breathing Mama!