|Music has saved my life,over and over again.
Photo taken in 2006, singing to my firstborn.
Studies have, for a long time, shown that deep breathing, mental imagery, deep massage or acupressure, and the presence of a constant companion or coach during labor can ease labor pains, making the miracle of birth more, well, enjoyable.
During the birth of my two sons, and with another one due to arrive in June, I have (and will) use all of these methods for pain management during labor. However, that is not all I will use.
With both of my previous labors, each vastly different, I used one, well, two other tactics – both of which played a very important role and were equally effective in helping manage pain.
One is yoga, but that is a topic that will take an entire book to address. In fact, I am working on that book now. The other tactic – the remaining secret weapon in my arsenal of labor pain management methods is – music.
Perinatal Nursing supports that music can be an effective means for managing both pain and stress during labor. Using music during childbirth, in a 2000 study, shows the planned use of music by mothers during labor has a significant effect on their perception of pain.
In the months before my sons were born, I started designing my “Birth Soundtrack.” When the big day came – wafting from my labor room, like a sweet breeze, were the sounds of designer music. Sounds that both soothed and motivated me to work diligently and gracefully toward delivering my sons into this word. I called on it all – from Sam Cooke to Patty Griffin to Gabriel Yared – from the genres of soothing soul to inspirational folk to contemplative classical.
What is designer music? In the industry, it is known as music that is selected to have a specific effect on the listener. And it is proven more effective than listening to just any music. I teach music and sound as therapy as an educator, so for each of my labors I designed my own music. But guess what? You don’t need special training – with a few tips in my guide (an excerpt from my text on Using Music for Therapeutic Benefit) and those listed below, you can design your own music too.
Designing Your Birth Soundtrack
Here are a few guidelines that I give to expectant mothers and other patients who use music for pain or stress relief:
- Certain instruments are better suited to promote relaxation and a sense of well being.
- The ancient medical systems of Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine have identified the instruments which are best suited to different emotional states and physical needs. Learn about them here.
- Make a playlist for your iPod or MP3 player or download music onto a USB memory stick that you can plug into your car or stereo. Name your playlist something that inspires you. I called my playlist “Baby Breathing.” I made one for a friend for post-partum healing and called it “Baby Hopes & Dreams.”
- Make sure you have the appropriate sound/stereo set up. My husband took care of this “technical” end – however speakers are so compact and portable now that they could fit in an overnight bag, along with your iPod or MP3 player. Of course, if you are home birther, no transport is necessary – just plug in and play!
- Create a minimum of 8 hours of continuous music. If you have a long labor, as my first one was 36 hours – you’ll need more than just a few hours of music to get you through.
- Choose relaxing but also motivating music which inspires you and develops your sense of connection and bonding with your unborn child.
- Order your music with the stages of labor, or create separate playlists for each stage. Meaning, the first stage can be much longer but less intense than second stage labor. Second stage labor will bring with it – different requirements. During transition and delivery – you may opt for silence – so you can hear those first sounds from your baby. Or, you may opt to have quiet, contemplative music playing which motivates you to go the distance. I used music throughout the entire labor. When it came time to delivery, my husband made sure (we pre-planned this) that a continuous play of meditative, calm solo piano music flowed low and quiet – so I could hear my baby’s first cries. I can attest that in my first birth – the music helped to calm and attune everyone – including the medical staff.
- Avoid rock, grunge, and other heavy music which emphasizes drums or electric instruments like guitar or loud synthesized piano. These genres have been proven to elevate vital signs and cause feelings of anger, hostility, and despair.
- If you prefer silence during labor – music and sound therapy can still help you manage pain. Nada Yoga, or the yoga of sound, teaches chanting and vocal toning as a way to ease pain and suffering. Sighing the sound “mmm” with the mouth closed on your exhale, during contractions, has been found to be balancing, harmonizing, and integrating to the nervous system – lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and assisting in pain relief. In yoga, it is the most subtle and most powerful of toning sounds.
- Consider a post-partum playlist for after delivery and when you return home. I made a separate playlist for after delivery. I played it during the entire stay of my post-partum in the hospital. (The nurses and my midwife loved it – it relaxed everyone. I think they made special trips to my room just to hang out and chill to the cool music). I called it “Baby Dance” – and after we came home I listened to it for months afterward, (literally did dance with my baby to it) and enjoyed shedding many tears of joy recalling the precious memories that the music helped bring forward in my consciousness – those I spent with my son and husband in those early special moments.
But more than just laboring women, everyone can benefit from using music prior to, during, or after medical care. Scientific sources supporting therapeutic benefit of music are numerous – and have been proven in children, open heart surgery patients, cancer patients, pre-operative patients, women waiting on surgical procedures or testing such as mammography, and the list goes on. Get a full list here
Take advantage of the instant healing effects of music. Learn more about how different instruments create different moods and physical states in your body – and how you can choose music not just to listen to – but to heal you.