Five Ways Music Calms Anxiety During Pregnancy and Birth

Blessed beyond belief to have Kate Taylor of Creative Childbirth Concepts sharing a bit of what makes her, and her doula practice, so special! Please enjoy Kate's thoughtful writing on anxiety, how it relates to pregnancy and birth and how music can help us navigate this experience with more peace. 

Thank you for sharing your words and your story Kate! I know many, including myself, can relate.

Namaste.


Before I begin I have to admit:  I live in state of anxiety most days.  Between running a business that centers around middle of the night phone calls and the unpredictably of birth, I am honestly, anxious everyday. 

For as long as I can remember I have felt anxious.  About everything.   “Worrier, tearful and sensitive” have always been part of my story somehow shaping who I am.  My dad cautioned my husband the day before he married me, “You see Matt, Katie cries a lot.”  Thirteen years later I still live under this label of being sensitive.  A lot.   But it’s ok.  I have grown to love being sensitive.  Because ever since Kindergarten, I have known that I march to my own beat.  At five years old, I have been told I would literally be marching my own way, within my own fantastic daydream.  Being creative felt freeing.  And I always had a song running through my head.  But, as an adult, now a mother of two and small business owner, anxiety has come to occupy space in my life again.  Sometimes, pushing creativity out.  So I often need reminders.  And so do the people I love (mostly so they know how to understand me and deal with me).  

In my line of work as a birth doula and music therapist, I see that many families are learning to recognize and live with anxiety.  Especially pregnant women and new parents who have so much change happening at such a short amount of time.  When women (and their partners) live with anxiety before getting pregnant, it’s often explained as nerves, or worse, ignored, even when anxiety becomes a bigger issue as their pregnancy progresses.   Anxiety during pregnancy is common but not always easy to recognize or deal with comfortably.  So it’s important to have resources that are easy to understand and easy to use.   Recently the Birth Institute blog shared an important message about the impact of anxiety during pregnancy and offered 5 tips for anyone working with a pregnant mom who express anxiety

The Birth Institute offers simple and practical ideas tips like:  talking to the mother about her feelings taking a deeper look at what issues are causing her anxiety and encouraging her to take time for herself.  They even suggested all the things available right at ohmMother Yoga including massage and yoga.  I also really liked the suggestion to explore any other underlying medical conditions that can contribute to anxiety such as anemia.  After all, getting proper nutrition, through whole foods from every color of the rainbow, is very important to managing gut and brain inflammation that can contribute to anxiety, especially during pregnancy.  Ohm Mother yoga has excellent resources on nutrition and health to share as well.

While all these tips are amazing I feel that families deserve to know there is an awesome accessible tool they can use routinely to lower anxiety and even encourage relaxation to support peaceful, calm births.  No, it’s not a medication.  It’s music.  

Listening to music has so many health benefits, I’d need another 100 blog entries to even begin to explain them to you. So I’ll just start with five ways that carefully selected music can be helpful for managing anxiety during pregnancy and birth:  

  1. Music helps cue your relaxation response.  We know that music is a whole brain and whole body experience and the stimuli of music activates various parts of our nervous system depending on the mood, tempo and feeling of the music.  If you wanted to subdue your “thinking” mind and take slow deep breathes to try and sleep, you would not choose the first song on your workout playlist.  Usually, you’d choose something a bit more mellow, maybe softer lyrics or no lyrics to just be present with your thoughts and a few soothing instruments.  Connecting your mind and the music.  Allowing the music to hold you rather than move you at a runner's pace.  Yeah, I think that might be a better choice.
  2. Music helps shape our environment and communicate our needs, especially during birth.  We know that the right type of music can help set the mood of any special event or environment, right?  Brides take time to carefully select which music helps express their feelings of love and match the mood of the the wedding ceremony.  The same is true for birthing and any relaxed, safe, environment.  If you understand how music makes you feel, it will be easier to communicate your needs (even during contractions) especially  if you feel supported and encouraged by the music.  To moan, or sway or even cry to express anxiety.  The music can be there to support you.  
  3. Music helps you bond and connect with baby.  We have known for generations and countless studies have shown that there is a universal power to lullabies.  Lullabies by nature communicate safety and a simple message of support with gently lulling rhythms.  But honestly, lullabies can be melancholy too.  The New York Times featured an article on the nature of lullabies and how mothers often will use singing to baby as a time to soothe themselves from worry, fear and even grief.  So maybe you’ve had a rough day and you’re beating yourself up for not getting your to do list done.  Sit down, tell your woes to baby.  Cry about it.  Sing your song to baby.  And then laugh about it later when you realize the baby does not care if the chevron pattern on the crib is different than the curtain and your to do lists didn’t matter.  I promise, baby will care more about your voice than what you’re singing, and you might feel much better getting your emotions out.  Start with a few note tune or  melody, a phrase or two, and simply just repeat.  
  4. Music allows you to connect with your partner.  Changes in relationships and intimacy are a given during pregnancy.  For some couples, these changes are a big source of anxiety.  I’m always amazed how shocked couples are when I suggest they use their wedding music to encourage a slow dance, touch or connection during labor.  Yes, labor can be enjoyable and help connect you.  There is so much music out there that makes us feel sexy and connected and reminiscent of better, less “bumpy” times.  So use it.  Play your favorite music and enjoy some together time.  It’s not important what type of music makes you feel good.  What’s important is that you feel good together.  
  5. Music helps build trust and confidence in yourself- Yes, that’s right.  There is not one of us out there that has not danced to “our song” when no one was looking.   It brings a smile to my face.  Feeling confident in your body, especially as your baby grows is very important for your developing baby’s brain.  Anxiety is not an ingredient baby needs to grow it’s brain.  Music can be used to reduce anxiety by supporting positive imagery and memorable associations.  If you have a favorite movie I bet you love the soundtrack too. Because you connect the music to the movie.  Same is true in life.   We connect memories to music and can recall them very deeply.  Music can help you explore deep feelings and visualize letting go of unresolved issues or fears.  Music can also help you release the worries of what is to come by helping you find a soundtrack for YOUR story.  

I hope you’ll think about your favorite music and how it can help connect you.   Maybe you’ll know your song.   Maybe you’ll have to do some exploring.  Either way next time you’re anxious, add some music to your day it might just change your story.   

To learn more, join the Music for Birth workshop hosted at the beautiful ohmMother Yoga studio on November 4th, 2016 from 6:30-8:30 p.m.   Or contact Kate at mymusictherapist@gmail.com.