If you’ve recently embarked upon a pregnancy journey (or are preparing to embark upon one), you may be wondering: is breathwork safe during pregnancy?
It’s an important question to be asking, and one that comes with an answer that’s dependent on a variety of factors, including the type of breathwork you intend on practicing, your intention behind it, and the state of your pregnancy.
If you’re wondering is breathwork safe during pregnancy, keep reading so you can decide whether or not it’s right for you.
First thing’s first: what type of breathwork will you be practicing?
“Breathwork” is an umbrella term for a number of different breathing practices designed to shift your state. Some will calm you down, some will energize you, and some will drop you into altered states.
Many breathing techniques can be safely practiced during pregnancy without much consideration. Long, slow deep inhales and exhales are incredibly effective for calming the nervous system. It’s common for expectant mamas to experience fears, worries, and anxieties during pregnancy–there can be a lot of unknowns! Using slow deep breathing is a wonderful way to decrease the physical manifestations of racing thoughts.
On the other hand, breathing techniques that include breath holds, such as 4-7-8 breathing or tummo breathing (commonly referred to as Wim Hof breathing) are not advised during pregnancy. The thought process behind this is that holding the breath can withhold oxygen from the baby. Very few tests have been done on the impact of a breath hold on a baby in the womb; one study did test the impact of breath holds on blood volume in women with preeclampsia and those without, however it’s not recommended to use this as evidence for regularly practicing breath holds while pregnant.
Other forms of breathwork, such as conscious connected breathwork, can induce altered states of consciousness and can lead to a number of physiological changes such as an increase in circulation, increased sympathetic activation, and changes in blood pH. The answer to whether or not conscious connected breathwork is safe during pregnancy is…it depends.
Conscious Connected Breathwork and Pregnancy
The impact of conscious connected breathwork on the body has largely been ignored by the scientific community, with very few studies measuring changes in one’s physiology while breathing in this way for extended periods of time. To my knowledge, there are no studies done on conscious connected breathwork and pregnancy, leaving much to the discernment of the potential breather.
What we do know about conscious connected breathwork is that breathers can experience an increase in sympathetic nervous system activation. This is typically coupled with a slight–or dramatic, depending on the experience–increase in stress hormones. We know the pH of the blood can be altered (one of the physiological roots of the phenomenon known as tetany, or the infamous “lobster claws”), and we know that big emotional movements are not uncommon during a breathwork session.
What we don’t know is how these state changes impact the baby in the womb. Studies have shown that prolonged periods of stress can lead to premature birth and can have lasting impacts on development once the baby has been born, but what about short, perhaps intense periods of stress? Could the stress experienced within a breathwork session actually decrease day-to-day stress through the remainder of pregnancy, ultimately leading to greater outcomes for both Mama and baby?
It’s likely that the sounds and stress hormones triggered by a cathartic release will be felt by the baby, but again, the question is whether or not this release will support the mother and her pregnancy and postpartum journey, ultimately creating more ease in situations that may otherwise have been stressful.
A helpful question to ask yourself is this: what’s the potential cost of dropping into a breathwork practice while pregnant? What’s the potential cost of not dropping into a breathwork practice while pregnant?
Creating a Safe Breathwork Experience While Pregnant
If you choose to participate in a conscious connected breathwork session while pregnant, there are a few things you can keep in mind to create a safe and supportive experience.
For those who are brand new to breathwork, it’s recommended to work with a trained recommended breathwork facilitator who can guide you through your session. Share your intentions and ensure they know you are pregnant. Some facilitators will work with pregnant clients and some may choose not to.
If your pregnancy is considered high-risk or if you are in the first trimester of your pregnancy, you may wish to practice other breathing exercises, such as slow deep breathing to create calmness within the body and mind. Certain pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure can also be contraindications for breathwork.
Feeling a number of different physical sensations such as tingling, numbness, and light-headedness is normal during breathwork. While these are typically safe sensations, if you’re pregnant and you begin to feel dizzy or lightheaded during your session, listen to your body and return to a relaxed breath until the feeling dissipates.
Depending on the stage of your pregnancy, you will likely also want to avoid laying on your back while breathing. As you progress into your second and third trimesters, practicing breathwork while laying on your left side or propped up against a couch or bed can feel more supportive for your body. Fast forward to 14:40 in the accompanying video to see some different positions you can use.
Other Ways Breathwork Can Support Your Pregnancy
Beyond conscious connected breathwork, as mentioned above, you can use calming breaths to ease the common stress and anxiety that accompanies pregnancy. Placing your hands on your womb space and breathing into your belly can be a wonderful way to connect to the baby growing inside of you. Envision yourself breathing life into this part of your body, and consider seeing if you can energetically connect with the little one inside of you.
Using your breath to connect to your pelvic floor will also be incredibly beneficial to both your birth experience and your recovery process. Regardless of how you end up delivering, your pelvic floor does a lot of work over the course of 9 months, and learning how to both strengthen and relax it can lead to faster recovery with fewer challenges with incontinence in the postpartum period.
Fast forward to 15:56 in the accompanying video to follow along with a few different breathing techniques that will help you connect to your pelvic floor.
IS BREATHWORK SAFE DURING PREGNANCY?
There are a lot of decisions to be made during pregnancy, and while I wish I had a clear-cut answer for you regarding breathwork and pregnancy, it’s one I can’t answer for you. However, making these decisions is a beautiful opportunity to begin deepening your trust in yourself and your own intuition. Ultimately, you know what’s best for you, your body, and your baby! Trust that knowing.
If you decide breathwork is right for you, beautiful. I have breathed many pregnant women before and felt so supported by my breathwork practice during my 9+ months while carrying my baby girl.
If you would like to explore breathwork with me, feel free to get in touch with me so we can have a discussion about how breathwork may be able to support you during your pregnancy journey. You can also try out Hohmcoming, a virtual studio for prenatal movement, breathwork, and mindfulness. Use the code ARIANA22 to receive your first month for $10.
Written by Breathwork Facilitator + Earth Medicine Practitioner, Ariana Fotinakis
About Ariana Fotinakis
Ariana is a coach, breathwork facilitator, and shamanic practitioner who serves clients in the Lower Mainland, Gulf Islands, and globally via Zoom. She incorporates a multi-modality approach when supporting her clients’ healing journeys while holding the intention that they are their own greatest healers and teachers. She’s also part of one of the breathwork teacher trainings recommended by Head + Heart.