How Music Can Help You Feel Safe and Supported During Labor

by Sammi Graham, MT-BC

Whether it’s a mom dancing in her hospital gown to pass the time, or a dad playing Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” on his phone to lighten the mood, most of us have seen viral videos of people using music to help them cope during labor. But did you know there is scientific research that actually supports the efficacy of listening to music during labor?

Keep reading to learn:

  1. Why music is an effective coping mechanism during labor.
  2. How to ensure that you use music in a way that supports the safety of the mother and baby. 

(We’ll also debunk some common misconceptions at the end!)

Research

Music during labor*:

  • Provides emotional support
  • Promotes family bonding immediately postpartum
  • Creates a calm environment
  • Promotes efficient breathing
  • Improves focus 
  • Reduces feelings of pain or discomfort 
  • Empowers birthing people and gives them a sense of control 
  • Helps to induce a relaxed state
  • Relaxes heart-rate
  • Improves ability to manage stress

In order to understand how this works, we need to look at the role of hormones in labor and how music can support that role.

Hormones in Labor

The brain produces a “cocktail” of hormones throughout labor and to facilitate various processes that need to happen in the body for a baby to be born.


Feelings such as fear, anxiety, irritability, and even disappointment can impede our brain’s ability to produce these necessary hormones, impeding the labor and delivery process.

How Music Can Help

For an optimal birth, a mother must feel “private, safe, unobserved, and free to follow her own instincts” (Buckley, 2009). 

  • A feeling of safety through pain relief: Music is described in music therapy research as a form of “audioanalgesia” as it can distract from pain or discomfort. This can be explained by the gate control theory of pain which states that when experiencing pain, if other non-painful stimuli are introduced, the brain is unable to perceive as much pain. 
  • Creating an optimal birth environment by setting the mood: Music can create a private space by imparting a sense of reverence. Soft and peaceful music will encourage anyone entering the room to honor the space by matching the tone of their surroundings. 
  • Instilling a sense of love and support: Familiar and preferred music can aid in the release of oxytocin (known as “the love hormone”) which slows the mother’s heart rate and blood pressure, and causes contractions.

It is important to note that while this research shows that music can be beneficial to people during labor, there are possible contraindications. That is why you should consider hiring a board-certified music therapist who is trained in the Sound Birthing Method TM to help guide you through the process of using music during labor.

The Soundbirthing Method

Developed by Mary DiCamillo EdD, MT-BC, Doula (DONA), “The Sound BirthingTM Method uses carefully designed music programs to create a birth experience that is calm, safe and supportive for the mother and child.”

Music therapists have extensive knowledge, training, and experience regarding music’s effect on human functioning, and Sound Birthing Specialists receive additional training on the effect of music during the various stages of labor and immediately postpartum.

Birth music provided by a Sound Birthing Specialist can look different depending on what is best for you! Let’s look at the differences between MTACB (Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth) and BMC (Birth Music Consultation):

Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth

MTACB is ideal for individuals who want guidance on how to most effectively utilize music in their labor and birth and desire to have the music therapist attend the birth.

Birthing clients are taught how to use music to support their physical and emotional needs throughout the stages of labor and delivery. The MT-BC assists the client in selecting and applying a specially chosen music program to calm, comfort, block discomfort, and focus breathing.

The MT-BC may also provide instruction in imagery and relaxation techniques, movement training, singing of lullabies and womb songs, and other creative arts experiences. This therapy has been found to significantly decrease the birthing client’s anxiety and discomfort responses, decrease the need for analgesic medications during birth, and has contributed to overall positive feelings about the birth process.

 

Heart and Harmony’s MTACB package consists of:

  • 3 prenatal sessions and 1 postnatal session
  • Live support from a board-certified music therapist during your labor and delivery
  • Personalized playlists for use in early labor and postpartum bonding period
  • Access to dozens of pre-programmed playlists for use in all stages of labor
  • Recordings of three lullabies written together by family & MT-BC
  • Considerations for use of music and access to playlists for baby’s new life outside the womb

Birth Music Consultation

BMC is ideal for individuals who want guidance on how to most effectively utilize music in their labor and birth, but do not plan to have the music therapist attend the birth. This is great for those who have doulas or other birth support in place, as well as clients who live in rural or distant places.

 

Heart and Harmony’s BMC package consists of:

 

  • 3 prenatal sessions and 1 postnatal session OR 1 comprehensive prenatal session
  • Personalized playlists for use in early labor and postpartum bonding period
  • Access to dozens of pre-programmed playlists for use in all stages of labor
  • Guidance for comfort measures, relaxation techniques, and use of music for labor and delivery
  • Recordings of three lullabies written together by family & MT-BC
  • Considerations for use of music and access to playlists for baby’s new life outside the womb

You can click here to learn more about MTACB and BMC, or click here to schedule a free consultation!

Let’s Bust Some Myths!

  1. Music is a cure-all, universal language that can do no harm.”false. Various aspects of music (tempo, volume, lyrics, etc.) can have negative, undesired effects on our mind and body, particularly for people who are in an altered state of consciousness like women in active labor. Additionally, personal preference has a huge impact on one’s perception of music and thus its ability to have positive effects. Click here to read more.
  2. Playing Mozart or classical music for your baby calms them down and makes them smarter.false. Classical music typically consists of large orchestras and sudden changes in tempo and key, which can be overstimulating for newborns who adjusting lots of new stimuli. Lullabies and traditional children’s songs are typically simple in composition and performance, which makes them developmentally appropriate for newborns. Click here to read more about “The Mozart Effect”. 
  3. If you put headphones on your belly when you’re pregnant, the baby will hear the music.true, but you probably shouldn’t do this. Babies in utero can hear everything the pregnant mother can, and everything that the mother says (and sings). Placing headphones on a mother’s pregnant belly will produce a sound that is actually too loud for the baby. If your baby starts moving every time you place the headphones near your belly it might be because they’re distressed. So, sing to your babies, listen to music, and save your money for something else.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about music and childbirth! Feel free to reach out with questions or schedule a consultation for more information about using music during labor and birth. 

*DiCamillo, M. (1999). A bio­psycho­social model of music therapy assisted childbirth: an integrative approach to working with families. Doctoral Dissertation, Pepperdine University
**Hanser, S. B., Larson, S. C., & O’Connell, A. S. (1983). The effect of music on relaxation of expectant mothers during labor. Journal of Music Therapy, 20(2), 50-58.

Sammi Graham, MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified

sammi@heartandharmony.com