Many couples, no matter what type of birth they are planning for, arrange a music playlist for labor as part of their labor preparation. For various reasons, though, I've found that often this carefully chosen playlist is forgotten when labor actually begins. Maybe it's nerves, or the change to a new location, or the stress that both are going through, but I'm here to remind you. DON'T FORGET THE MUSIC. It can be amazingly helpful and powerful as a coping mechanism. Fortunately there are several ways to use music to relax, find a rhythm, and encourage the hormones that aid in physiological birth. Today I'm going to discuss listening to music, singing, and dancing, and why you might want to plan to try these during your own labor and birth.
Listening to Music
I'm starting off with this one because it takes no innate musical ability to enjoy listening to music. We all know that music affects our moods, and the same music can affect us all in different ways. Many women find that calm, rhythmic music helps them to find their own rhythm during contractions, which Birth Partner author Penny Simkin cites as one of the most important keys to coping effectively during even the most intense parts of labor. Other women enjoy classical music, rock, even show tunes! (At one birth that I attended the mother insisted that only Dave Matthews be playing. 'ONLY DAVE!')
Some women find that tapping along with the beat, humming, or bouncing (on an exercise ball, perhaps) is also helpful, especially during contractions. Many couples play music for their baby even in the womb, and we know that babies can hear and remember familiar songs. Your baby may very well also be relaxed and soothed by the music that you choose.
I arrived at a particular home birth and couldn't quite figure out what music we were listening to, but then it hit me! Popular songs reinterpreted as reggae, island beats. Now that was relaxing! 40 minutes later a beautiful baby boy was born. His mother, Virginia expressed, "[the songs were] what I heard all the time while I was in the Caribbean. The songs reminded me of being at the beach." That music worked perfectly for her; what music might put YOU in the most relaxed frame of mind? (Amusingly enough, Time recently ran an article about a pre-picked birth playlist that you can find on Spotify, chosen by a long-term OB/Gyn. Songs include "Under Pressure" and "Just Breath". Read about it here.)
Singing has an advantage over just listening to music. Even if we aren't trained vocalists, most of us have at one time tried to sing when we are sad, upset, or stressed. Maybe even angry. Quickly we realized that it's almost impossible to do! Singing requires a certain amount of relaxation, and it also keeps the mouth open and jaw unclenched. Because the body is all connected, keeping the face and jaw relaxed also affects the shoulders, hips, and even the pelvis and cervix! A relaxed body promotes loose ligaments, efficient contractions, and a baby that can work it's way through the pelvis more effectively than a body that is tight and clenched. (Remember that dilation is only a small part of the birth process; the real work is done as the baby descends, which is not necessarily related to dilation.)
Singing in labor doesn't have to include words. It could just be sounds- "ahhhh", "la", "baa", and the ever-popular "ooo" are all good sounds to try, as they promote an open and relaxed jaw. Using the rhythm of music playing is also helpful if you're having trouble finding your own during contractions.
Dancing is one of my favorite ways to cope with even the most intense of contractions. You don't have to be a trained dancer to reap the benefits of using these types of movements during labor. Dancing combines rhythm and movement to help the baby to find it's way through the pelvis. It's thought that belly dance originated from the way women would move intuitively during labor and birth, and many other dance forms also promote a balanced and relaxed body, which are key to a labor that progresses as normally and easily as possible.
In this video, Elisa shows some excerpts from her labor in the hospital where she used belly dance techniques to cope with contractions and to help her baby descend. What I like about her example is that she is still using the movements while in bed, even while being monitored!
Another benefit to dancing is that it's something that the birth partner or father of the baby can also be involved in. Perhaps you would like some extra support during contractions, or just a hand to hold. (Or, he can record the dance and turn you into an instant Youtube sensation!)
Perhaps you are someone who likes to be shown in person some of these dance moves. Dancing for Birth is a program that teaches women and birth professional how to use dance to promote a healthy labor and birth. You might like to visit their website to see if there is a class near you, or to purchase a video. (Eventually I hope to become an instructor!) You can also see this blog article for helpful videos to teach some movements that you can practice now!
I hope that you can now imagine yourself tapping, singing, and dancing your baby out during labor! Western culture typically has portrayed the woman's role during labor as one of stationary, stoic suffering, but the possibilities are SO much more interesting and fun! I hope that this post has inspired you to find your favorite music and practice some dance moves. And please don't underestimate the power of music for your labor and birth.
I look at birth from the perspective that our bodies are wonderfully made, and if we really believe that and work with the birth process and nourish our bodies properly, they will function optimally, most of the time!