The Power of Music and the Voice in Pregnancy and Childbirth

Here is a copy of an article which I wrote for the October edition of the West Cork People.

Music has always been an important aspect of my life, so it was unsurprising that when I became pregnant with my first child, that music would have a key role to play. I regard music and pregnancy as being intertwined on so many levels. Rhythm is the essence of life, and this is made all the more real when you hear that little tiny heart beat playing its own rhythm. While I envisaged that listening to music would be valuable throughout my pregnancy, I didn’t appreciate the pivotal role that my own voice would have in supporting me through a natural, drug-free labour.

A key part of my preparation for labour was the use of hypnobirthing, an approach which focuses on removing the conscious and subconscious fear surrounding labour. This, in combination with actively using my voice to sing, chant, shout, cry, enabled me to have a labour which, while it was certainly very intense and hard work, was experienced with minimal pain. Having had such a positive birth experience, I anticipated that it could only be better the second time round, but this pregnancy had some surprises in store for me, and it is this story that I would like to share with you, and how music and my voice supported me through it.

While I knew in my head that every pregnancy is different, I couldn’t help but compare the two pregnancies, and see similarities and differences. Did my early symptoms, or lack of them, suggest a girl this time? Was my baby going to be born early like my firstborn? Of course, when you’re running around after a two year old, you don’t have much time or energy to dwell on being pregnant too much! But I guess I assumed that labour this time round could only be a positive experience, and for this, amongst other reasons, we decided to opt for a home birth.

While I again experienced a healthy pregnancy, during the last trimester I discovered that our baby was breech. Despite all attempts at turning the baby…you name it we did it…hot toes from moxibustion (a form of acupuncture), handstands in the pool, lying upside down on a tilted board…nothing worked. I felt strongly that I wanted to be able to have our baby naturally if at all possible. Having a natural breech birth is not a common thing in many hospitals today and most women in my situation are given no option but to go with a planned caesarean from the outset. 

During this tumultuous time I started to build up a playlist of music which I was drawn to. I listened to it frequently as it provided the backdrop to working through the range of feelings that I had, from anger, fear, frustration, sadness, to a movement towards acceptance and then determination. One song in particular that I was drawn to was Ara Batur by Sigur Ros.

So I moved forward with a strong belief and determination to have a natural birth if at all possible. After researching the area of breech delivery, and in particular reading the work of Mary Cronk, I felt that I could do this once I was given the opportunity to go into labour naturally.  I focused my energies in the lead up to the birth on visualising my ideal birth. I did this throughout the day, often while listening to my playlist as well as other music that I liked to relaxed to. Then, around 7pm, the evening before my due date, my waters broke. The final leg had begun, and with our firstborn happily playing with friends we left to go to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, I used music to help me stay in a relaxed focused state and to pass the time. I chose some ‘New Age’ vocal music by Igor Ezendam. I found that it took me away from the sounds of the ‘machines that go bing.’(a phrase from a Monty Python sketch about childbirth), the frequent poking and prodding, the repetitive questions, and the negative energy of some staff who were sceptical of my ability to do this myself.

Over the first few hours of labour, my contractions built up slowly. They gradually became more uncomfortable, but felt quite manageable. During contractions I found myself sighing quietly and this kept my breathing long and focused. Then some time around 11pm, the pain and intensity went off the scale. Ironically, this is what I had wanted, as I knew that labour for a breech baby needed to be fast and strong, but as the contractions got stronger I thought, ‘Be careful what you wish for!” My sounds reflected what I was experiencing within my body as I moved from a meditative hum, to loud, strong, animal-like sounds. And the outcome… just before 1am on her due date, following three pushes, our little girl was born. Her cry was the most beautiful music of all.   

Childbirth is a space which brings us back to a more primitive part of our being. During both of my labours, using my voice freely was very much a part of tapping this part of me, and I believe it supported me in letting me go with my body during labour. I was immersed in a strong sea and I had to flow with it, but using my voice helped to keep me afloat when I felt like I was drowning. I know that the path of each labour could have gone differently. No matter how much you prepare, there are no guarantees when it comes to childbirth. We can only hope that our body and baby work together, and do what we can to, and leave the rest to a Power greater than ourselves. 

As a music therapist I have integrated my personal experiences with my professional knowledge and am now offering workshops on music and the voice for pregnancy and childbirth. These workshops are open to women at all stages of pregnancy and their partners. The next workshop will take place on Saturday 5th November from 10.00 to 12.30 in Clonakilty, as part of a day of workshops and information sessions on holistic pregnancy and birth. For information about any of these events, please contact

Linda Coyle, Music Therapist, Speech & Language Therapist, Ph. 087 2770752/ 023 8853924.

E-mail linda.coyle@moynihans.net, Website: http://www.speechlanguagetherapycork.com  

Some useful websites:

http://www.gentlebirth.ie Information about hypnobirthing. Weekend workshops and home programmes are available.

http://www.spinningbabies.com A website with lots of ideas for encouraging your breech or transverse baby to turn.

http://www.aims.org.uk/Journal/Vol10No3/handOffbreech.htm An informative article by UK midwife Mary Cronk entitled, ‘Keep your hands off the breech’ which provides information regarding breech births.

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