top of page

Progressive Relaxation: A Powerful Technique For Childbirth


The history of progressive relaxation dates back to the early 20th century when Dr. Edmund Jacobson, an American physician, developed this technique as a way to help his patients manage stress and anxiety. He discovered that by systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body, he could induce a deep state of relaxation that promoted healing and overall well-being (Psychology Tools, 2023).

Over time, progressive relaxation gained popularity as a therapeutic tool for various conditions such as insomnia, chronic pain, and anxiety disorders. In recent years, it has also been recognized as a valuable technique for managing pain during childbirth, helping women stay calm and focused during labor while minimizing the need for medication or medical interventions.

What is progressive relaxation and how can it help with childbirth?

Progressive relaxation is a technique that involves systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body to achieve a state of deep relaxation. This technique has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, physical /mental stress, and pain during childbirth. By using progressive relaxation, you can learn to control your breathing, reduce tension in your muscles, and ease the discomfort associated with labor pains, making it a valuable technique for childbirth (Relaxation | Burning Nights, n.d.).

The benefits of using progressive relaxation during childbirth

Furthermore, this technique can help you to conserve energy during labor, which can lead to a shorter and less painful delivery. Additionally, progressive relaxation has been shown to reduce the need for medication during childbirth, resulting in a more natural birth experience. Overall, learning and practicing progressive relaxation can provide you with a powerful tool for managing pain and stress during childbirth.

How do you do progressive relaxation?

Preparing for progressive relaxation during childbirth involves creating a calm and comfortable environment that will help you relax. There are four steps that I will outline for you so that you can practice at home. This four step process is an effective way to manage pain and anxiety during pregnancy and childbirth. The steps are as follows:

  1. Find a comfortable position and focus on breathing deeply, allowing the body to relax.

  2. Next, tighten and release each muscle group in the body, starting from the head and working down the body. This helps to release tension and further relax the body.

  3. Visualizing a peaceful scene or mantra that brings a sense of calmness and serenity.

  4. Finally, focus on positive affirmations that help you feel confident and empowered during labor.

By following these steps, progressive relaxation can greatly reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure, and alleviate pain during childbirth (Sutton, 2023).

Fort Collins, CO Doula
Pregnancy relaxation Fort Collins, CO Doula

To expand further and help you visualize the process, I’ve provided a more detailed process on progressive relaxation. I practiced this technique throughout my pregnancies and found that it greatly reduced my labor pain.

To begin, choose a quiet room with dim lighting, free from any distractions or interruptions. Wearing comfortable clothing and having pillows can also aid in relaxation. It is important to practice the technique before labor begins so that it becomes familiar and natural to you.

Once you find a comfortable position, either lying down or sitting up, begin by focusing on your breathing. Slowly inhale and exhale. Next, scan your body by bringing your attention to each part of your body from head to toe, noticing any areas of tension or discomfort.

Now, perform muscle tension and release. This is done by focusing on one muscle group at a time, beginning with your forehead. Tense the muscles in your forehead by scrunching the forehead or frowning for a few seconds, and then release the tension, allowing the muscles to completely relax. Repeat this process one more time.

Next, slowly tense and then relax each muscle group in your body, moving down from your forehead to your face, neck, shoulders, continuing down the body, ending with your feet and toes. Visualizations of peaceful scenes or affirmations can also be helpful in inducing relaxation during this process.

Once you have completed moving through each muscle group, allow yourself to focus on your breathing once again. Inhale slowly, and exhale. Remain in a quiet moment for another minute or two before you head back to your daily activities. This is extremely helpful to do progressive relaxation prior to your bedtime. It enhances your sleep routine and is helpful to increase restful sleep.

Different ways to use progressive relaxation during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum

Combining other techniques with progressive relaxation for childbirth can enhance the effectiveness of the practice. One such technique is visualization, where you imagine a peaceful scene or a positive birth experience. Birth affirmations, are another great technique to combine with progressive relaxation. Additionally, another technique is breathing exercises, which can help to reduce tension and increase oxygen supply to both the mother and baby. Yoga poses can also be incorporated into progressive relaxation for childbirth, as they promote relaxation and flexibility.

Moreover, massage or acupressure can help to alleviate pain and promote relaxation during labor. By combining these techniques with progressive relaxation, mothers can create a more holistic approach to childbirth that addresses both physical and emotional needs (Professional, n.d.).

Fort Collins, CO Doula
Pregnancy relaxation Fort Collins, CO Doula

Maintaining the practice of progressive relaxation after childbirth is highly beneficial for new parents. This technique can help them manage stress and anxiety, which are common in the postpartum period. Progressive relaxation can also aid in promoting better sleep, reducing muscle tension, and improving overall well-being. Continuing this practice can provide a sense of calm and balance during a time of transition and adjustment to motherhood.

Remember, it is important to prioritize self-care during this period, and progressive relaxation is an effective tool to support physical and emotional recovery. By incorporating this practice into your daily routine, you can cultivate a sense of inner peace and resilience that will benefit you long after childbirth.

A final word on progressive relaxation

Many new parents have successfully used progressive relaxation during labor to manage pain and anxiety. Some additional benefits include the ability to remain calm and focused during labor, to feel more in control of your body, and to be able to communicate your needs more effectively to your care providers.

Overall, progressive relaxation has proven to be a valuable tool for many expectant parents during childbirth.

Have you practice progressive relaxation? Please share your thoughts below!


Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Labor without Medication: Coping Skills. Cleveland Clinic. skills

Psychology Tools. (2023, February 21). resource - Psychology Tools.

Relaxation | Burning Nights. (n.d.).

Sutton, J., PhD. (2023). Progressive Muscle Relaxation: 10 Scripts for Effective PMR.


bottom of page