Soothing Sounds: The benefits of music throughout your pregnancy
Creating a new life is filled with excitement and joy, along with some less than joyous discomforts and pains. But from morning sickness to labor pains, music can help.
Science has shown that the right music can help you relax, fight fatigue, beat stress, elevate mood, and reduce the length and pain of labor. Better still, music can help both parents create a bond with baby before birth, ease the transition from womb to world, and even jump-start development.
Listening to relaxing music during pregnancy “took morning sickness to another place,” says Sara Weber, a mother and business woman who used music therapy while expecting. Music also helped her get through some of the rough spots of her pregnancy. Music “brought a lot of calm… during pre-term labor,” she explains.
Catherine Szuch, a board-certified music therapist, says “music was very grounding for me during pregnancy; it was familiar and predictable at a time when my own body was unfamiliar and unpredictable!” She explains that during the more intense stages of labor, “I found music particularly helpful as a positive focus. I found that I could better deal with the pain.”
Zara Phillips, a musician and mother of three, says using music and guided imagery “was useful during labor. When that music played, I automatically went to that relaxed place, calmed down, and was able to focus.”
What’s So Special About Music?
Hearing is a physiological process that involves the ear, brain, and body. You are probably familiar with the heart-pounding, freeze-in-your tracks, panicky feeling that comes from being startled by a loud noise. But music is just as powerful, with the ability to affect your mind, body, and mood.
In The Power of Music, Susan Hallam, Ph.D., a reader in education at the Institute of Education at the University of London, states “Music is powerful because it can induce multiple responses… physiological, movement, mood, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral.”
Scientific reports show music can reduce anxiety and perceived pain levels, as well as reduce required drug dosages. These are all helpful during labor and delivery. But music can also elevate mood, regulate vital signs (such as pulse rate and blood pressure), boost the immune system and improve focus… just what the mom of any newborn needs, right?
Music can also have a positive effect on baby’s development before and after birth. Studies have shown that newborns exposed to music in utero reached developmental milestones significantly faster during the first six months of life than newborns who were not exposed to music prior to birth. Music can also help premature infants develop and gain weight faster.
And best of all, the power of music is literally at your fingertips — just push play. According to Elizabeth Miles, M.A., author of Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body, and Mood and producer of a related music series, “Most people have a collection of music they love, they just have to learn how to use it.”
Selecting Your Soundtrack
Hallam notes that in most cases, the type of music you select will influence your physiological arousal in the direction you’d expect. In other words, fast-paced music tends to energize your body and lift your mood, while relaxing music tends to calm and soothe. Your heart rate, blood pressure, the tension in your muscles, motor responses, and skin temperature are apt to increase in response to loud, fast-paced music, and decrease in response to relaxing music. Since hearing is the first sense to develop in the womb, by twenty-eight weeks (and maybe even earlier), babies are listening, too.
Relaxing selections can help treat morning sickness or send you and your little one to sleep, says Miles. She suggests lighter, lively music to energize mom for exercise, work, or for rocking, swaying, and enjoying bonding time with her developing baby. The right music (familiar, steady pulse without lyrics) can also help moms-to-be focus despite the effects of mind-muddling hormones.
“I believe [musical preference] is one of the most important components to successfully using music therapeutically,” says Catherine. “Music that worked best for me were selections of my old favorites.”
By paying attention to how music makes you feel, you can use music to do what you need it to do: energize, relax, uplift your mood, concentrate, go to sleep, or heal, for example. You can create your own tapes or CDs or simply enjoy the collection you have at hand. Music can be especially powerful when paired with guided imagery, which is something you can do with the help of a music therapist. Moms-to-be can also sing lullabies and love songs to their child while rocking and swaying.
|Tips on Using Music During Pregnancy and Childbirth
1. Put your feet up. Turn on some relaxing tunes and enjoy the wonder of creating a new life. Use the same music during labor to remind yourself (and your baby) to relax.
2. Get moving. If you’ve got the green light to exercise, use lively, fast-paced music to motivate an exercise routine or simply make it through the day when you’re feeling fatigued.
3. Beat mood swings and morning sickness. Use relaxing music to calm anxious nerves, uplift your spirits, or keep your focus away from a churning stomach.
4. Deal with pain. Music can help reduce pain during labor and childbirth. If you can pair music with guided imagery and other birth training during pregnancy, the benefits can be even greater.
5. Bond with baby. Use music to relax and enjoy the life growing within you. Sing and let your baby feel the vibrations you create. Compose a song for your baby and sing it to her before and after birth. Rock, sway, and have fun with your baby.
6. Combat mommy brain. Familiar music with a steady volume, no distracting lyrics, and an even tempo that works subtly in the background can help clear your mind. Listening to ten minutes of Mozart improved college students’ IQ scores an average of nine points, so it’s worth a try.
Bach for Contractions
Music can also benefit everyone present during labor and birth. Studies show when prenatal Lamaze training is paired with music, using that same music on the big day can lessen pain and anxiety, shorten labor, and improve recall. Music can also keep dad and your healthcare providers relaxed, as well. To gain the most benefit, experts suggest choosing a soundtrack early in your pregnancy. Just be sure to remember it on the big day.
In addition to listening to music, “Singing is a very important practice for pregnant women, even if they think they are off key,” says Giselle Whitwell, R.M.T., doula, childbirth educator, and creator of the Center for Prenatal Music. “The act of singing… the vibration… excites, stimulates the baby in the womb, [facilitates] learning the maternal language, more [brain] cell connections take place, and if done with thoughtfulness and feeling, the baby will be nurtured emotionally, as well.”
According to Ms. Whitwell, babies have musical preferences; “Via ultrasound babies have let us know they prefer Baroque music… and some classical… the slow movements are closest to our own heart beat” . She also contends, “Jazz and rock have been known to bring tension to babies in utero,” and cautions that “loud sound irritates the immature nervous system of babies in the womb.” Thus, music volume should be kept at a level you can talk over easily.
Music can also benefit babies and moms postpartum. According to Lise Eliot, Ph.D. and author of What’s Going On in There?, “Newborns apparently have a keen memory for their prenatal auditory experiences, and hearing those familiar sounds is yet another way of smoothing their transition to postnatal life.”
“In the hospital,” says Catherine, “I played some of the music I had played to my baby while I was pregnant. I was looking to create a sense of comfort for my new baby. I tried to create a kind of ‘home away from home’ at the hospital… where we could all be relaxed and comfortable.”
Music can also help sick or premature infants. In studies on the effects of music on premature infants, musical stimulation resulted in increased daily weight average, increased formula and caloric intake, reduced total length of hospital stay, and reduced stress behaviors. The use of “Pacifier-Activated Lullabies” in premature infants was shown to improve suckling, neural development, and weight gain.
Moms can also continue to benefit from music after birth just as they did during pregnancy. Music can inspire postpartum exercise efforts and can be used to alleviate the blues many women come down with after delivering a baby. Of course, moms should always seek help if their feelings are extended or severe.
Choosing a D.J.
If you’re having a hard time envisioning any of the CDs in your stereo helping with labor pain, you can check out the offerings available commercially, especially those focused on pregnancy and childbirth. There are also numerous CDs made especially for babies.
Music therapists offer customized soundtracks, focused on your specific needs. These therapists are educated in music, composing, music history and theory, psychology, anatomy, and physiology, and they can be board certified. Music therapy might include singing, composing, playing or learning a musical instrument, relaxation, guided imagery, or working with the therapist to create a musical collection for pregnancy and childbirth. You can even find music therapists who, like Ms. Whitwell, actually specialize in using music for pregnancy and childbirth. For more information about music therapy contact the American Music Therapy Association, Inc. at 301-589-3300 or visit their web site at www.musictherapy.org.
Music is a wonderful gift you can give yourself and your little one from conception to birth and beyond. It can help the whole family bond with and prepare for the new arrival, as well as ease the discomforts of pregnancy and help moms to learn to trust their body, relax, and enter into the journey of motherhood.