By Rebecca Chen, MTI (MusicWorx Intern)
You’re expecting a baby! Pregnancy can be exciting, stressful, and scary all at the same time. You feel like you might need some extra support and have heard that music can support you throughout your pregnancy and birthing process. Whether it is your first pregnancy or your fifth, music therapy is here for you and your birth partner.
Music, as we know, has “magical” healing properties. Music can calm someone down, create a calm and safe environment, create the mood for movies, etc. From a scientific point of view, music can force the brain to entrain (or follow) with the beat, motivate movement and mood changes, and facilitate the release of happy hormones (serotonin and dopamine). Researchers have advocated for music therapy by referring to “The Gate Control Theory of Pain” and by developing the concept of “audioanalgesia”. The “Gate Control Theory of Pain” theorizes how the brain uses non-painful sensations to override and reduce the feeling of pain. “Audioanalgesia” is the theory of using sounds to help distract the brain from pain.
Music is no different when it comes to childbirth. In movies, the birth person is usually screaming, sitting in one position, wanting more medication to assist the birth, grabbing their birth partners who are probably also screaming, etc. Stressful? Very.
Before I dive further into music therapy during the birth process, I just want to make a disclaimer that I have never been pregnant. Most of the information in this post is written from research articles, readings, and classes on music therapy-assisted child birth. I also wanted to note the usage of the word “birth person” is used over the word “mother” or “mom” to advocate for inclusive language in this field. This post comes from an advocacy perspective.
When you’re in your second or third trimester of your pregnancy, your OB-GYN or doctor may give you many options to begin creating your “birth plan.” The birth plan usually consists of making informed decisions involving the arrival of your child. Depending on insurance, finances, and location, you can choose from a variety of services like a doula, a midwife, birthing classes, mommy and me classes, massages, exercises, etc. A service that may or may not be listed is music therapy. It is also important to note that some hospitals do not allow music therapists to follow you into the delivery room. Look into facility policies while making your informed decisions. Music therapy assisted childbirth is a service that can stay with you from the moment you find out you are pregnant, to well after the baby is born. Music therapy assisted childbirth can help in the following areas:
- Reduce medications administered
- Increase bonding with the baby in utero and post utero
- Support birth positions and movement
- Reduce anxiety
- Promote relaxation
- Advocate for the birth person
- Increase production of the “good hormones” (serotonin and dopamine)
- Support parents pre- and post-birth
- Create a safe environment
Research shows that when one medical intervention is implemented during early labor, a cascade of medical interventions that will quickly follow. For example, if an epidural is administered, another series of analgesics and anesthetics will follow with another number of other medications to diminish the side effects. Most of those medicines are administered through an IV, which can make changing positions and moving during labor difficult. Some medications even restrict any movement. Changing positions and moving are used to make the birth person more comfortable during labor.
Many expecting people choose to reduce the amount of medication administered during labor. Some people who have given birth reported they were so heavily medicated during their delivery that they do not remember the feeling of giving birth. Some regretted being in that altered state and wish they were able to remember the delivery of their child. Whichever path the birth person decides (a scheduled c-section, medication during birth, water birth, etc.), the music therapist will support them. “What if I’m anxious about pain management or there are complications?” Music therapy will help support you and potentially limit medications administered during labor.
A research-based program, Sound Birthing Music Therapy, founded by Dr. Mary DiCamillo, provides birth persons with resources and pre-recorded music for a safe birthing process. The Sound Birthing protocol consists of multiple practice sessions that provide support and setting expectations for the birth session. These practice sessions also go over techniques like rhythmic breathing exercises, birthing positions, and meditation to prepare your body for the safe arrival of your baby. I would like to note that, the music therapist cannot act as a doula or a midwife unless they hold those credentials. A midwife is someone who is medically trained and is there to ensure the safe delivery of the child, while a doula is someone who advocate and support the birth person. A doula cannot act as a midwife because they are not medically trained. The music therapist does work to support the doulas, midwives, doctors, OB-GYNs, nurses, and the birth person’s support system.
However, like most events in life, the pregnancy may have complications that lead to a pre-term delivery. In a case study by Dr. DiCamillo, a client was experiencing hypertension during their pregnancy. The doctor recommended not to use an epidural due to her medical history. The client had been working with Dr. DiCamillo for a while, and through the support of music therapy for discomfort relief, the birth person gave her desired, although premature (around 33 weeks gestation), vaginal birth to a healthy baby.
Music therapy can support the birth person throughout the entire pregnancy and also after birth. Some babies struggle with latching, which can be painful and frustrating for the birth person. Luckily, researchers have found that music can support breastfeeding. Specific music is played as a comforting stimulation, which helps the baby and the birth person relax. Not only can music help support breastfeeding, but it can help support bonding as well. Writing songs or singing lullabies to a baby after birth provides opportunities for the birth person to interact with the baby. Music therapy can also support the baby in the NICU as well. My colleague, Rachel, wrote a post about it back in November. You can find it in the references below.
After doing the research for this post and participating in classes that support the use of music therapy throughout the entire birthing process, I am impressed by the power of music. Music therapy is able to provide a safe and comforting space for people who are experiencing a life-changing, yet painful experience. If you are interested in having music therapy as a part of your birth plan, check with your healthcare provider and look-up a music therapist on the AMTA website or check-out the references listed below.
AMTA Website: www.musictherapy.org
Rachel’s NICU Post: https://musicworxinc.com/2020/10/31/we-work-in-the-nicu-too/
Sound Birthing Website: www.soundbirthingmusic.com
DiCamillo, M. (2000). Music therapy assisted childbirth: a case study of an emergency high-risk pre-term delivery due to pregnancy-induced hypertension. International Music Society for Prenatal Development Review. 12. 2. 8-13
DiCamillo, M. (2019). Music Therapy Assisted Childbith (MTACB): Working with couples in labor and birth. Workshop Training Manual. Sound Birthing Music, LLC
Shukri, N. H. M., Wells, J.C.K., & Fewtrell, M. (2018) The effectiveness of interventions using relaxation therapy to improve breastfeeding outcomes: A systemic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition 14. 2. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12563
Simavli, S. et al. (2014). Using music therapy during labor decreased postpartum anxiety and pain, increased the satisfaction with childbirth and reduced early postpartum depression rate. Music therapy can be clinically recommended as an alternative, safe, easy and enjoyable nonpharmacological method for postpartum well-being. J Affect Disord. 2014 Mar;156:194-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.12.027.
Simavli, S. et al. (2014). Listening to music during labor has a positive impact on labor pain and anxiety, maternal-fetal parameters and analgesic requirement. Gynecol Obstet Invest. 2014;78(4):244-50. doi: 10.1159/000365085.