On April 30, 2016 I was a featured contributor to Radio New Zealand's podcast "The Secret Life of Birth Music," featuring doctors, midwives, doulas and moms talking about the power of music during labor and birth. I got to share what I do as a music therapist, and how I help my clients by using Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth techniques. I also got to share an original "womb song" that I've written for clients!
I was thrilled to be interviewed by Nathalie Saenz of the Dearest Doula podcast recently. I got to talk all about music therapy, the history of the field, and how one becomes a board-certified music therapist. I also got to dive into music therapy assisted childbirth, and the many ways music can help during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
Over the past day or so, there has been a bunch of media attention on a story about Spotify creating a “birth playlist” with the help of NYC-based OB-GYN Dr. Jacques Moritz. The story has been picked up by the Huffington Post, Time, and more. I wanted to weigh in as a board-certified music therapist who has been trained in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth. Part of the work that I do is to help pregnant moms create personalized playlists, as well as provide them with over 40 hours of specially-compiled music playlists that can be used during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
While I think it’s great that Spotify recognizes the power of using music during birth, a one-playlist-for-all approach just doesn’t make sense. Every birth is different, every birthing mother is different, and people’s music choices should be just as unique, varied, and ever-changing as their births are. That is why when I work with a client, we spend several hours together talking about her music preferences, her history with certain songs, and what music she finds the most relaxing, uplifting, and helpful for getting through tough emotions.
Another aspect of music during birth that I am mindful of is that the music should create an atmosphere of comfort, familiarity, calm and relaxation. Songs should flow easily from one to the next, and there should not be a lot of variance within a single playlist. That is one reason why Spotify’s birth playlist may not work for many women – not only is it not personalized to fit each woman’s preferences, but the songs are from a variety of genres and have different tempos. When songs flow effortlessly from one to the next, the birthing mother’s mind can relax into a trance-like state, and if there are dramatic changes from song to song she can be jolted back into her conscious mind.
"When songs flow effortlessly from one to the next, the birthing mother’s mind can relax into a trance-like state, and if there are dramatic changes from song to song she can be jolted back into her conscious mind."
I work with my clients during the months before their birth, and the music is an integral part of our therapeutic work together. My clients practice moving and relaxing to the music many, many times before going into labor so that their bodies and minds are familiar with the music and relax easily and quickly when that music is played during labor. I attend their birth as their doula and music therapist, and am constantly assessing the environment and putting on music that will assist them in focusing, relaxing and feeling at ease. While a standard Spotify birth playlist may be helpful for some women, it doesn’t give them the one-on-one, personalized therapeutic relationship that my clients get with me, and it doesn’t allow for changes and fluctuations in the music during labor.
"While a standard Spotify birth playlist may be helpful for some women, it doesn’t allow for changes and fluctuations in the music during labor."
As a trained music therapist, one of the most important pieces of knowledge that I bring with me to all my work is that music is very powerful, and it can sometimes have negative effects on people – it can trigger strong emotions, bring back difficult memories, and it’s psychological and physiological effects on the mind and body of a birthing woman can slow or stall the progress of labor.
I think every birthing mom who wants to have music during her birth should be able to do that, and I encourage all the moms I work with to create playlists that help them feel relaxed and empowered. While it is a one-size-fits-all approach that I don't think will work for many women, I do applaud Spotify and Dr. Moritz for looking at the benefits of music during labor, and I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth or my Birth Music Consultation services to get in touch with me at Beth@HeartTonesDoula.com.
I think it's safe to say that everyone has experienced the amazing power of music at one point or another, whether it is listening to your favorite relaxing tune to unwind from a hard day, putting on loud, uptempo music to get pumped for a workout, or dancing around the kitchen to your favorite salsa music while you make dinner (oh, is that just me?).
But how exactly does music help during labor and birth? Mary DiCamillo, the founder and creator of the Sound Birthing program, has outlined the seven foundational processes of music during labor and birth, and I would like to share them with you today.
1. Biological: Music is used during birth to help the laboring mother regulate her breathing, lower blood pressure and respiration, and decrease discomfort.
2. Psychological: Music can enhance the mother's ability to tap into her coping mechanisms that she learned in childbirth prep class. Having music on can even make time seem to pass faster than it is.
3. Sociological: Music can evoke social support from others and holds the birthing team together, including midwives, nurses, doctors, doulas, family members, and the music therapist.
4. Emotional: Music can be used to match or affirm moods and feelings the laboring mother is experiencing (technically this is called the iso principle), or may be used to help the mother shift or change her mood if she is feeling stuck.
5. Developmental: Music can support the process of becoming a mother and can help the new mom work through her fears and let go.
6. Spiritual: Music can enhance and support spiritual processes of the laboring mother and may even evoke a peak or transpersonal experience.
7. Environmental: Music can be very important in blocking out extraneous sounds in the birth environment that may interfere with the laboring woman's entrainment process. Music also provides a "sound blanket" which fills the space and wraps the birthing mother in sounds of comfort and safety.
The amazing thing is, some or all of these processes may be experienced by the entire support team at the birth, making the birth experience calmer, more comfortable, and more meaningful for everyone present.
That is a question I get asked pretty often when I tell people that I am a music therapist and doula, and that I specialize in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth. “Wow! That sounds awesome! But what is that? And what exactly do you do?” Well, allow me to explain.
The short version: I educate and empower expecting parents to use music to support them physically and emotionally throughout labor and delivery. I introduce them to a wide variety of different recorded music that has been specially chosen and compiled to promote comfort, calm, and decrease anxiety. I attend their birth as their doula, and fill two roles. First, as their birth doula: providing unconditional support, help with relaxation techniques, massage, position suggestions, and continuous encouragement. Second, as a music therapist trained in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth: continuously assessing the environment and their progress in labor, and playing music that will encourage relaxation, connection, and deep inner calm.
To go a little more in-depth, here is the full definition of Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth written by Mary DiCamillo, a board-certified music therapist and founder of the Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth program:
“A Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth program is conducted by a board-certified music therapist, and consists of a series of sessions usually offered in the last trimester of pregnancy. Some music therapists also provide labor and delivery support for the couple during the birth and postnatal visits. Couples are taught how to use music to support their physical and emotional needs throughout the stages of labor and delivery. The music therapist assists the couple in selecting and applying a special chosen music program to calm, comfort, block discomfort, and focus breathing for each mother. The music therapist may also provide instruction in imagery and relaxation techniques, movement training, singing lullabies and womb songs, and other creative arts experiences (a womb song is a special song that is written for the baby while in utero). Familiar music can help comfort the mother during the birth experience and practice with the music before the birth is essential. This therapy has been found to significantly decrease the mother’s anxiety and discomfort responses, decrease the need for analgesic medications during birth, and has contributed to overall positive feelings about the birth process.”