What have you heard? That women in labor are like rabid dogs, barking at nurses and screaming at husbands? What else? That we should have silent births like the Scientologists? That chanting will take away the pain?
Well, just to clear up some of the myths about making noise in labor–and hopefully pave the way for some productive sound-making–here are a few things you might like to know:
1. Making noise is a way to cope with pain. The fancy childbirth education term for making noise in labor is “vocalizing.” It’s not going to numb you from the waist down, but some good moaning might help take the edge off.
2. Labor can sound a lot like sex. Whether you’ve learned about “vocalizing” or not, you might find yourself making a low, often rhythmic, moaning sound through the really tough contractions. Not every woman makes noise in birth– and it’s far less likely with pain medication. But in non-medicated births, it seems to be a natural response to big muscle pain and stretching. In labor, your uterus–now the largest muscle in your body–tightens and opens with each contraction. This pulling and stretching seems to illicit a deep instinctive moan. It actually sounds a lot like sex. In fact, if you’re just listening to the audio you could mistake a birth video with a porn video.
3. Go low. Go guttural. When you make a deeper, low-pitched noise like a moan or groan (most women do this without any instruction) you’re actually helping your body relax and open up. The opening of the throat and mouth correspond with a loosening up down below, too. Alternatively, high-pitched screaming can seize the muscles up. Ina May Gaskin suggests women have big open-mouthed kisses during contractions to help relax the sphincter muscles. She also recommends a big laugh. The idea once again, open that mouth and let it out in a big, low, gutsy way.
3. Women don’t really scream all the way through labor. Despite some of the sillier scenes in movies, women don’t tend to SCREAM right through labor. For one thing, it’s not very productive to just scream and scream– that’s using up a lot of energy that laboring women really don’t want to waste. Having said that, if mom has no pain medication, she might let out a few short but pretty wild howls or screams right at the very end of pushing. If a woman is screaming in earlier labor, she definitely needs more support. Maybe an epidural. Maybe a better position. Maybe relaxation breathing and a reminder to go lower with the sounds. Maybe she needs validation and reassurance– high-pitch screaming can be the result of panic or fear more than muscle pain.
4. Cursing is “vocalizing,” too. Do you swear when you jam your finger in a drawer? It’s a very common response to pain and an effective way to communicate the severity of the situation. So swear away. I heard a great story once of a woman who said quietly, “shit, shit, shit, shit” over and over during each contraction. It seemed to be helping so she went on doing it for hours. As far as screaming at your husband? And the nurses? Well, I think a woman would probably do this if she felt people were not taking this labor seriously. So take her seriously.
5. Chanting is awesome. And guess what? The woman above who said, “shit” over and over? She was chanting. You don’t have to come up with a fancy mantra or Tibetan prayer in order to chant. You can say whatever you want! I recently read about a woman in labor at the hospital who chanted, “shut the door, shut the door, shut the door” through each contraction. (Side note to labor partners, hospital staff often forget to close the door and though mom may be a chanting, laboring maniac, she’d like some privacy, thanks). A student of mine once told the class she recited the Pledge of Allegiance when she was in pain. To this day I imagine her during transition, “…one nation indivisible…”
6. Sometimes a good cry can really help. Women have told me that they didn’t go into labor forever, then had a big cry and BAM, contractions kicked in. During labor moms sometimes cry, too. Let that angst out. Talk about what scares you. Cry it out. Hug it out. You might just feel better afterwards and be able to push onwards (or even just push for that matter.)
7. A Silent Birth sounds like a fine idea… so long as the rule only applies to the other people in the room. Though Scientology promotes what’s called, a “silent birth,” I don’t know of any literature supporting the claim that noises during birth traumatize a newborn. I do, however, like one aspect of the silent birth; from what I’ve read on the topic, the Scientologists are more concerned with the people in the room making a lot of crazy, loud noise than the mother moaning. I like the idea of low and gentle voices in the birthing room. Mom should wail to the moon if she wants to, but everyone else can feel free to can it.
8. Birth noises can be very animal and very intense sounding. We don’t make these noises in every day life. I once heard a woman in labor back before I had kids and I thought I was going to cry. What was that sound?! One commenter on a recent post of mine said she felt like she was “mooing” through labor. It’s very animal. And it can seem very strange before you’re in the moment. But during labor it suddenly makes a whole lot of sense. If you want to make these noises, let them loose. Not everyone makes noise during labor and if you get an epidural the need to moan is eliminated, but if you find that you’d like to let out some animal sounds, go, go, go. This is your birth. The people attending your birth have heard it all before.
Here’s a video that gives a pretty good example of the sound a woman might make in active labor.If any readers made noises in labor, what were they like? Did you scream at people? Or moan? Or moo? I’m curious to hear more moaning stories so please feel free to share.