Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ease Labor Pain with What?

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.


  1. Are you a mom that has successfully used music during labor or after? If so, we want to hear from you!

  2. Some comment(s) from readers:
    Thank you Ginger for sharing your blog and special insights on music therapy-especially for labor! I continually find that those mother who spend the time preparing a playlist for their labor benefit greatly from the music. I agree that the music types and tempos need to vary for the different stages of labor! Music truly can inspire, encourage and recharge!
    Posted by Holly Wiersma

  3. Hi. My name Jackie Coleman. In 1994 I conducted a research study on the effects of male/female singing/speaking voices on premature infants for my Masters: (please see) 1) 2) 3),+engine+has+been+restarted& 4) & 5) We looked at 40 minutes of intervention for 4 consecutive days. The study was very positive in helping infants thrive through music intervention (more relaxed state in heart and behavioral state, greater oxygen saturation, better weight gain, more caloric intake, earlier leave from hospital by nearly 3 days, etc.). I can only imagine how longer time periods and more days of music in the NICU would help. The Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, where we conducted the study, restructured its whole unit based on the results we saw for better sound control on the environment. I have the entire study on videotape if ever it needed to be revisited. My main interest in studying the male and female voices stemmed from: 1) wanting to bring couples closer together in care of their infants 2) help males feel more involvement in the nurturing process of infants and 3) bring a new twist into the research (which had never looked at the male voice before, only the female). The study showed the premature infants responded equally to both male and female voices, but the music helped soothe the babies while the speaking aroused them into a more alert state.

    I am writing specifically to inform as many as possible about the benefits of this research. I would love any leads into disseminating the data to more hospitals (NICU’s) and parents so it can be useful to many more people ~ as many as possible. For your information, we created a CD of lullabies featuring males and females singing some of the same lullabies used in the study (with light instrumental accompaniment and lyrics so parents and other caregivers can sing along). The lullabies are designed for all young children up to age 8. They can be purchased here on i-tunes:, through certain online stores, or by contacting me. If you or your unit is interested in finding out more about the research or the lullaby recordings, please contact me. I am also interested in donating music to international neonatal organizations where it could be of benefit to struggling countries.

    Thank you so much!
    Sincerely, Jackie Coleman

    1. Hi Jackie,
      Thanks for your comments - they are SO beneficial, as is your work. I would love for you to leave your comment on my new blog - so the readership can see it. Here is the link to post your comment - and I'll make sure I follow up on commenting as well.
      I would love to hear more about your work.

    2. Thank you, Ginger! So wonderful . . . I love this area of study.

    3. Ah - sorry I forgot to include the link to the new version of this post:

    4. N/P ~ so happy to be of help! I really appreciate your support as well. Thank you!!

  4. I also worked with women and childbirth and found it simply fascinating to see the way the music acted as a sort of anesthetic. Coupled with relaxation techniques and biofeedback training, music is Highly effective during labor because it gets the mind off of the pain and focused on positive. It helps women focus on their breathing and mastery of the pain, rather than on the fear and intensity of the pain itself.