Updated: Feb 28
How many of us know a handful of lullabies? I'm going to imagine a bunch of you raised your hands. But how many of us can say we know songs for birth? Um, maybe not so many hands up this time. Singing through pregnancy and birth is a very old tradition and natural way of coping; and for babies, it's just a continuation of their exposure to music which will continue with lullabies once they are earthside.
Until I learned about birth songs, I had simply thought of music in pregnancy and labor as a form of enjoyment, a way to relax the mind and help set the mood. It was a tool that I could use with a laboring person to help center and focus them, or create a calm space for them, helping to get them into their labor zone. Music was something that could help women cope through their labors.
But then during one of my own pregnancies, a dear friend of mine invited me to attend a Womb Song singing circle in Santa Cruz. I was not at all prepared for the deep knowing and soulful presence that met me in that room. The songs were so powerful, I left feeling encouraged and more confident in my own pregnancy journey. I started using these songs everyday, humming to myself or repeating the lyrics in my mind when I was feeling stressed. Then labor started and I found myself doing laps in my living room, singing song after song, and later just humming quietly between the waves of contractions as labor intensified.
So what is it about song, particularly birth song, that it can make coping through labor a little bit easier? Penny Simkin may have part of the answer for us. Penny is a renowned childbirth educator and labor attendant. She's written many books on the topic of pregnancy and birth, and has affected great change in the birth climate of the U.S. But I digress . . . She also has a theory on what it takes to cope well in labor.
She calls it the 3Rs: Relaxation, Rhythm and Ritual. On the topic she writes:
"There are three characteristics common to women who cope well: 1) they are able to relax during and/or between contractions; 2) the use of rhythm characterizes their coping style; 3) they find and use rituals, that is, the repeated use of personally meaningful rhythmic activities with every contraction."
In my opinion, singing during birth, or having someone sing to you, achieves all three of these characteristics and indeed encourages effective coping during labor. The very physical act of singing requires a soft and open jaw, which opens the throat sphincters thereby open and soften your bottom sphincters. And simply listening to music adds to a person's general feeling of well being and calm. Relaxation: ✔️
Our bodies intuitively follow a song's rhythm, and if the lyrics are repeated or sung in the round, the rhythm is heightened. Songs specifically about birth are very repetitive, encouraging the singer to sway in their rhythm and move in repetitive ways. Rhythm: ✔️ again!
And then there's ritual. The ritualistic part is the repeated use of these songs, these powerful words, that ultimately come to mean so much to the person singing or even listening to them. Song can become an anchor during birth, holding a laboring woman, mooring her to herself, the moment and the tremendous task at hand. Song can become profoundly meaningful in labor, a necessary component to one's ability to cope. Ritual: definite ✔️
Whether you decide to sing in your labor, or plug into your own birth playlist, I hope that the power of song will help you cope and ease into your birth zone.
p.s. A little plug for Womb Song (just because I love them so) . . . They are hosting an online summer Womb Song series if you are curious to learn more about birth songs and singing for pregnancy and labor. And hey, since it's online, you can press that nifty mute button if you are feeling self-conscious 😉
Simkin, Penny: "Ask Penny - Singing To The Baby Before And After Birth." Penny Simkin, PT, 2017. https://www.pennysimkin.com/articles-resources/
Arielle is a Certified Labor and Postpartum Doula, and a Certified Childbirth Educator. As such, she promotes a sense of curiosity and exploration during pregnancy, provides evidence-based education for childbirth and postpartum and offers support services guiding expectant families to claim their birth and postpartum experiences as their own. To read more, check out her Philosophy page.
Note: Any links to services or resources are not affiliated. I share freely those resources which family's I have worked with find helpful and therefore may also be helpful for you!