Music in Birth

Whilst music is not a first line treatment for pain, the evidence substantiates that music can be beneficial in holistic pain management” says Birthbeats, (an organization that aims at promoting and improving the care of mothers, babies and families through supporting midwife education). Birthbeats supports the use of music therapy and encourages midwives, who have an influential role in supporting normal births, to use music therapy as a coping strategy for labor. 

Is music in your birth plan?

Having a background in music makes it easy for me to want to encourage women thinking about labour and birth to listen to music while in labour. I know music holds a sacred place in my own personal life, but I began wondering how it would affect women while in labour, and birthing.

I talk to my clients about the Gate Theory (simply put, this is all about the idea that pain is perceived by messages to the brain, which we translate as pain. Any kind of disruption to these messages, confuses the pain signals) and how sensory stimulation can disrupt the pain signals during labour.

So, this is why things like massage feel good when you have a sore muscle (or are in labour) and it is because using the sensory impulse of touch overrides the pain signals. When any kind of stimulus is to the skin is introduced, there is a direct impact on the perceived amount of pain being felt and understood by the body and for our purposes, in labour.

After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the same can be said for all the sensory stimulus: we are directly impacted by lighting but also, our auditory senses are directly affected. Music, which is perceived by the right brain, will stimulate the pituitary gland and will release endorphins for decreasing pain.

“In 1983, Hanser, Larson, and O’Connell studied the use of music to enhance relaxation and decrease pain responses in mothers during childbirth. The music therapists used music to cue rhythmic breathing, assist the mothers in relaxation, prompt positive associations, and help focus attention on the music as a diversion from pain and hospital sounds.[…]Results indicated that all of the mothers had fewer pain responses in the music vs. no-music condition, and that music aided concentration, relaxation, cued breathing, and diverted attention from pain.” 

So, for all you music lovers out there, this is for you. But, I also want to direct this to all those who didn’t think about using music while they birth: Not only does music promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, it can be a great distraction, can help in focusing, and can block out any other auditory stimulation. And of course, it is using your auditory senses to confuse those pain messages – how fantastic!

When thinking about setting up your birth space, consider all the important things that have an effect on your senses:

  • Are you wearing clothing that feels comfortable and is allowing you to move and not feel restricted?
  • Have you arranged for low lighting (that also means not flicking on the lights when you go to the bathroom)?
  • Will you make use of massage, or hydrotherapy (water on the skin has incredible pain-relieving benefits)?
  • What music will you listen to?

I encourage all of you who are planning to birth soon, or in the future, to consider music during this time. Think about it for relaxation, and what you have listened to when you’re cleaning the house, or at the gym, or painting your kitchen. Could you see how this music that helps you when you are working in other ways can facilitate the same kind of response when working during birth?

Some things to consider when making a playlist:

  • You don’t have to use the music you prepared (sometimes music can be unwanted, and so consider that as well)
  • Create several playlists (you will likely want different music for different stages of labour)
  • What music brings you comfort when you listen to it
  • Do you have a dock, or some easy way to listen to your playlist(s)?

I think having music at your disposal is simply another tool to include in the plan. It could be not at all pleasing during your labour, but I have witnessed it be a really powerful way for moms to distract and focus during birthing. So, consider packing this in your hospital bag or using this at home if that is where you are birthing. Turn it on. Change the energy. Turn it off. Make use of all your options.

Kathleen Stafford

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