Being a music therapy major and all, I thought it’d be cool to show you guys how one can combine music therapy and reproductive health. I recently discovered a method of childbirth called Sound Birthing, which uses music therapy to assist in labor and delivery. It can also be used prenatally - for example, singing lullabies and creating “womb songs,” or songs for your baby in the womb - but I’m only going to talk about the big day for now.
Brief overview: Music therapy is the use of music to achieve specific goals in a therapeutic session. A lot of the uses of music therapy in labor and birth can be applied to other situations as well.
So how is music therapy used during childbirth? First, the music therapist will help the birthing family choose a combination of music for specific goals, like lowering blood pressure, supporting breathing, and guiding the labor process. Some music therapists also use music for guided imagery and visualizations. The birthing family will listen to the music ahead of time to prepare for labor and bond with the baby.
Mary DiCamillo, Ed.D., MT-BC gives seven foundations for the benefits of Sound Birthing:
1. Biological: Music can block pain and help regulate breathing and blood pressure. It’s used to condition muscles to relax, to help a laboring mother breathe easily and rhythmically, and to reduce any tension or fear. Slow, meditative music or a special song chosen by the mother might be used for this. Music therapists are rarely without their guitars, so that’s another option.
2. Psychological: Music can enhance endurance and coping skills. We all listen to music when we exercise, right? Some of us listen to it when we study, too. It’s a great motivating tool.
3. Environmental: Music can block distracting and distressing noise, like the beeping of machines or shouting of doctors. “Music provides a ‘sound blanket’ which fills the space and wraps the mother in sounds of comfort and safety.”
4. Sociological: Music can keep a birthing team connected, supportive, and motivated. Soundbirth, a company offering workshops in Sound Birthing, also sells crystal bowls that can be played by moving a mallet around their edge, like you would with a wineglass. These are used in childbirth to support a mother’s vocalizations. One of the testimonials on their site was from a 13-year-old son:
At my Mum’s homebirth, I was the one in charge of playing the bowl, and it was surprisingly easy to use. It was a great way to help share the birthing experience with her and my family. It helped soothe her and it felt wonderful being able to help in some way. Playing the crystal bowl at my Mum’s birth, in my opinion, was a great way to help out.
5. Emotional: We use the ISO principle in music therapy, or the matching of music to a client’s mood. It’s used to affirm and support the moods and feelings of our clients, which is especially helpful for a fearful or doubting mother. If the client wishes, the music can also be used to change their mood. If they are panicking and breathing too fast, for example, the music may start off at a quick, aggressive tempo, then begin to slow and soften to guide the mood and breathing to a healthier, happier place. Music can also help a laboring mother bond with baby and partner, and express themselves creatively and positively.
6. Developmental: Becoming a mother is a monumental change, and music can support that process and help guide through any fears by expressing and affirming thoughts and feelings that arise before, during, and after birth.
7. Spiritual: For many, labor and birth is a spiritual process, and music is used to support that experience.
One mother describes: While lying on a bed in a maternity home, I had a harder and more intense experience of imagogic music therapy. I had a cardiograph on my stomach to record the heartbeat of my baby during the birth. Near me there were many nurses speaking, and cries, screams, laments. I decided to close my eyes and to go out completely from that environment and to go into myself. I came back to a music therapy session on a night illuminated by the moon. I heard my baby’s heartbeat in that moment as the music therapist beat on a conga, which was impulsive, then caressing, accelerating, then softening, …then a gallop of inner sensations. All of my body relaxed in that wave, I heard myself in syntony and in harmony with myself and my baby, ready to birth. This was the birth of my first son, which I faced with serenity using the sensations of natural being that I had realized, but not understood in my rational consciousness.
The people who provide music therapy during childbirth are called Sound Birthing Doulas. They are board-certified music therapists who have also trained in prenatal music therapy, music therapy in labor and birth, professional doula/labor support, and postpartum support (either music therapy or doula training). They can provide some physical comfort measures, like positioning and massage, and can reassure and help the family communicate. They’ll bring music and instruments to the birth. They don’t perform medical tasks or make decisions/speak for you.
I was pretty freakin’ psyched when I heard about Sound Birthing Doulas. I’ve been looking for ways to combine music therapy with my interest in reproductive rights and health, and voila! It’s like it was tailor-made for my hippie self.
Hope you all learned something today!