Studies have shown that music played during painful dental procedures can make the experience less miserable. Other research points to the positive psychological impact music can have during trying times. Music therapy has been shown effective for the treatment of depression.
Music is also recommended to help women cope with pain in labor. But can it really make a difference? And, if so, what kind of music should a laboring woman listen to?
Music is not going to numb you from the waist down, but it can definitely help in a few ways. It can help you focus on something other than just the pain. Distraction can be a very effective in labor. Music can reduce anxiety, which is not great for labor. And it can help block out your environment. If you’re in triage and put on headphones, all the bright lights and goings-on around you can feel less in your face and you can get back to the business of dealing with the contractions.
Labor has a rhythm to it– contractions come in waves and then within each contraction there is a build up, peak and tapering off. Women often slip into rhythmic patterns as they try to cope with the oncoming contractions– they rock from side to side, moan rhythmically, or even sing or chant. This happens whether or not a woman has read a book about moaning or singing or chanting.For the music to be effective, you want to have something that compliments this blurry, repetitive, rhythmic state.
You’re not looking for music to cheer you up or cheer you on. Maybe We Are The Champions or Push It could work, you never know, but this is not a basketball game. I recommend finding music that can be played on an endless loop–maybe an album where the songs bleed into one another. You could also play one long song on repeat. I love this description in Heather Armstrong’s birth story:
“We brought an iPod deck and we’re listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows on repeat! God! That’s one of the most important parts! Because while the contraction rolls through my body I’m concentrating on the lyrics to the music, and who knew! It totally took my mind off the pain. Sort of. Not really. But kind of!”
You’re looking for songs with a rolling, building, mostly soothing rhythm. All genres are appropriate so long as you’re going for the meditative vibe over the punchy, perky one.
Rebecca listened to the same music she heard in prenatal yoga- the relaxing, empowering association helped her through early labor. She chuckles when she recalls bringing a CD called Krishna Dot to the hospital. This isn’t normally her cup of tea. But calming, rhythmic chanting CDs to tend to work well– for a suggested playlist along these lines check out Labor of Love.
The beauty of an ipod is that you can line up a whole range of music and then find what works. Music for early labor can be different from music in active labor. But music may not work at all.
Women have been known to cue up thoughtfully composed playlists only to throw their ipod across the labor and delivery room, cursing anyone who ever suggested that a song might help at a moment like this. But there’s certainly no risk in trying. When it comes to coping in labor the more options you have the better.