How music can help when you're in labour

Research says that listening to music throughout pregnancy and labour can have big benefits.
Research says that listening to music throughout pregnancy and labour can have big benefits. Photo: Getty Images

Most of us have playlists on our iPods that serve a multitude of purposes. There are those fast paced tracks that help you to pound the pavement when working out, the upbeat numbers that make you feel good and happy after a long day, and those slow crooners that are great for setting the mood to a night in. (And, of course, tunes just for the kids!)

Whatever the reason or occasion, there’s no doubt that music makes us feel good, and it can definitely help improve our mood. And it’s no different when you’re in labour: research has shown that listening to music during birth can actually help reduce the perception of pain and decrease anxiety. Studies have revealed that music has a calming effect on both blood pressure and breathing in labour, and is linked to the fact that music triggers the brain to release increased levels of the ‘happy hormones’ endorphins and dopamine.

‪Maria Tedeschi, a mum of four, used music for all of her labours. “Each labour had a different playlist chosen from my extensive CD collection,” she says.  “I had a mix of current and old music, and for each labour I had a different theme. For my first I had chilled, relaxed music, for my second I had a strong 70s theme, for my 3rd I had a rock theme, and with the fourth labour there was an electro-pop theme, as well as some favourites.”

Tedeschi always planned to use music in her labours, not only because it’s such a big part of her everyday life, but also because she knew it would help make the time pass faster.

“Music is a great distraction for me. Sixty minutes of pacing around a room without music can seem inordinately long, whereas listening to 12 songs in an hour sounds far more pleasing.”

Tedeschi believes that music also helped her maintain focus through her labour. “It helped me get out of my own head, especially in those moments of ‘I can’t do this’ panic attacks,” she says.

Her advice to those thinking about creating a playlist is to use music you normally get totally lost in: “We all have songs in our lives that just take us away, and if it starts becoming irritating you can always turn it off.”

Laura Perguni also says that music helped her in labour, after using it during both her children’s births.

“I used calming pregnancy meditation music in place of drugs, and it absolutely helped,” she says. “I became so focused on the sounds in the music that it distracted me from the pain. I didn't realise how much it helped until the playlist finished and the pain levels completely shot up to unbearable. I remember shouting at my husband to get the music back on!”

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Like Tedeschi, Perguni says that music helped her breathe and relax, and that it can be “the calming force that you need in a very chaotic situation.”

According to Pip Wynn Owen, a childbirth educator, registered midwife and mother of four, music during childbirth not only benefits the labouring woman, but also her partner, her baby and the care providers. 

“As a midwife, I’ve seen how music can transform the harsh, sterile hospital environment into a calm, intimate birthing space. Most people are conditioned to relax to music, so it can make even the most harassed midwife or doctor slow down and realise they are part of something very special,” she says. 

“Music has also been used in operating rooms to help Mum, Dad, and staff remain calm when birthing hasn’t gone to plan.” 

Owen also highlights the physiological impact music can have by releasing endorphins and lowering the respiratory rate. It can also encourage movement, which can help dramatically shorten labour.  

“A birthing environment, be it at home or in hospital, needs to be quiet, calm and respected in order for the woman to labour and birth well. Music sets the scene perfectly, and is a way of personalising the environment immediately,” she says.

Owen offers the following advice for anyone thinking of using music during labour. 

Make a playlist
Think about how you want the music to match the timing and rhythm of your labour. In early labour, quicker, more upbeat music is great to keep the mood fun and distracting; as labour progresses, slower, repetitive music is better as you find your instinctive rhythm of labour.

Check how you can play your music
When you do a hospital tour, ask about the availability of music docks, or what the OH&S rules are if you bring your own. 

Think about packing earphones
You might want to think about the fact that there might be times when you want to completely block out distractions. Earphones will be great for this. 

Enjoy music during pregnancy, too
All the benefits of music during labour can be just as important for a calm, relaxed and positive pregnancy. Listen to music often for relaxation, to reduce anxiety, and to lift your mood and energy. And if you listen to your playlist beforehand, you’ll be helping to program your mind for all the benefits to kick in quickly when you do go into labour. 

- Essential Baby