(Editor’s Note: We just recently instituted a new application process for our scholarships. As a part of this new process, we ask the applicants to write a paper on a topic of their choice involving labor support. Below is one of our most recent submissions. )
Among many relaxation techniques employed to soothe the mind and body, music is an age-old mixture of genius and comfort for the senses. Whether the music is a simple folk song being strummed on a guitar around a campfire, or a heart-thrilling orchestral Bach suite, the wonderful mind-calming effects of music bring joy to people everywhere. And whether the listener is musically gifted or just a curious listener, it’s a universal love, brilliantly diverse throughout every culture. Therefore, if music lifts the spirit in daily life, why not employ it during the special time of childbirth?
According to scientists, music releases “happiness hormones”, called endorphins. These relieve stress by increasing the body’s threshold of pain, giving the mood a lift. (Bhandari, 2016) Music may not be what every laboring woman needs, as there are people who don’t show any emotional response to music and don’t particularly care for it. But for any casual listener, since the uses of music are so well documented, it may be worth a try. Many women have found music during labor a type of holistic medicine – in narrowing focus, regulating breathing, and shortening the whole labor – ultimately providing the body and mind with less trauma from which to recover during early postpartum.
Furthermore, the tempo and style of the music are factors to be considered. Actually, music with a faster tempo has been shown to raise a person’s blood pressure, and slower music tends to lower it. And although not every style may be helpful, Jazz, Celtic, rain, thunder, and sounds of nature may be a “tonic” to the laboring woman. But any classical piece that mirrors what the person is feeling at the moment is a good choice. Meaning, if someone is “down”, listening to an upbeat tune can actually be depressing, while listening to a somber tune while in a good mood can also be depressing! So, the laboring woman should choose music according to her current mood, and enjoy!
A study done with 161 women during labor showed interesting results. Eighty had self-selected music played throughout their labor. “Mothers in the music therapy group had a lower level of postpartum pain and anxiety than the control group and it was statistically significant at all time intervals (1, 4, 8, 16 and 24 hrs). In addition, an observable difference was observed between the two groups in terms of satisfaction rate and depression rate at postpartum Day 1 and 8.” (Simavli et al), which tends to confirm that a woman’s well-being and experience during labor affects how she feels afterwards about it. Moreover, music doesn’t only affect the mother, but any birth supporter present may also be encouraged by the music as well.
Another study was performed with thirty participants. After listening to various musical pieces, they each viewed photos of neutral facial expressions. If the music had been happy, the faces appeared to match, and when the music was sad, the faces appeared sad. (Logeswaran, N., 2009) Therefore, as a cheerful upbeat selection can change the way a person views her surroundings, perhaps this value of music should be employed to enhance a woman’s experience during labor and birth, to further celebrate the blessed occasion.
As the appreciation for the beauty and function of natural childbirth gains popularity, women should be encouraged to relax and let the natural processes do the work they were designed to do. Childbirth is a miracle process that, though immensely painful and tiring, is one of the most rewarding a woman can experience.
Additional Information You Might Be Interested In:
- blog post: Hypnobirthing: fight or flight and the perception of pain
- blog post: Doula students getting involved in their community
- handout: Childbirth models of care: medical vs. midwifery
Bhandari, S. (2016). Exercise and depression. WebMD Medical Reference. Retrieved online at http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1.
Logeswaran, N. & Bhattacharya, J. (2009). Crossmodal transfer of emotion by music Neurosci. Lett. 455: 129-133. DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.03.044.
Simavli, S. (2014). Effect of music therapy during vaginal delivery on postpartum pain relief and mental health. Journal of Affective Disorders , Volume 156 , 194 – 199