Musical birth: sound strategies for relaxation

Musical birth: sound strategies for relaxation – includes list of suggested birth music

Barbara Whitmore

My second daughter, Samantha, was born at home. Part of the birth’s success, I’m sure, was because I learned to relax and let go by using music to focus my energies.

Working as a registered nurse for 14 years, I have been immersed in the mainstream medical reliance on technology. At the same time, I have searched for alternatives that promote health and wellness without the overuse of expensive medical technology. Since I view childbirth as a wellness issue and not a disease process, I find the mainstream treatment of birth and newborns very discomforting. So, when it came time to birth my second child, I chose to stay at home with a nurse-midwife and to study alternative methods of pain and anxiety management. That’s when I discovered the power of music.

During childbirth, music took me out of my “head,” or conscious self, and put me into a dreamy state. In his book Water and Sexuality, Dr. Michel Odent recommends listening to water sounds as a way of inducing a hypnotic state in the laboring woman, removing her from the mundane world. So, in early labor, I listened to a tape of ocean sounds, replete with seagulls. Because I was experiencing discomfort at only 4-centimeter dilation, I lit some candles and climbed into a warm bath.

As I floated around on my side, the actual pain of the contractions ceased to disturb me. I connected to the ebb and flow of the rhythmic tightening and loosening of my uterus. While breathing through the peak intensity and gently rocking in the water, I enjoyed the sound of the washing waves and the distant cry of gulls. I easily tuned out the outside world and really relaxed. After about an hour, I felt very dreamy and calm. I climbed out of the tub, sat in my rocking chair, and just rocked peacefully, listening to the sounds of the waves.

Several hours later the midwife checked me and said I was 6 centimeters dilated. As things had slowed down a little, she wanted me to get up and move, be more active. I still wanted to remain peaceful and in my own world, so we compromised, and I got up and walked around the room a bit more often. We put on Enya’s Watermark tape, and I enjoyed the more upbeat but gentle and beautiful music tempo. Sometimes I even sang a little. Singing is an extremely therapeutic activity–it has a cleansing effect and reduces stress and anxiety.

Labor was puttering along when another nurse friend of mine arrived with a tape of Hebrew prayer music, the “Kodoish, Kodoish, Kodoish Adonai ‘Tsebayoth.” I listened to a seamless piece that gently repeated the prayer over and over with lovely, moving strings in the background. It was extremely holy and inspirational music that evoked a powerful feeling of spirituality in me. While listening to this music, an incredible change came over me, and the whole quality of the labor became intense and down-to-business. I could feel the baby coming closer and closer with each surge and peak of the music. It was absolutely amazing. I felt renewed, invigorated, and empowered.

I did have some trouble with a stubborn anterior lip of the cervix, but after rupturing membranes, one huge pushing contraction brought Samantha’s head nearly to the perineum. With the beautiful, powerful music in the background, I reached deeply within myself, and while tightly hugging a friend of mine, I pushed past all barriers of pain. Samantha was born a short time later, a beautiful 9-pound, 22-inch girl.

Music therapy is a relatively new course of study now being offered at the university level, but its qualities were understood in ancient times. Pythagoras, best known for his work in mathematics, thought the whole universe to be comprised of sounds (vibrations) and numbers. He used music as a healing aid, believing it had purifying properties. He preferred stringed instruments because they seemed to affect the body more positively, inducing a feeling of harmony. This theory is extremely useful to laboring women, who must be in harmony with their bodies for labor to progress synchronously. Tonal therapies are currently being used to treat several conditions, such as insomnia, dyslexia, hyperactivity, and autism.

The therapeutic use of music to manage pain and anxiety in childbirth is an exciting alternative to drugs. Music has many beneficial effects on the body. It has been proven to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and induce states of relaxation and feelings of general well-being.

Samantha’s birth was a healing and learning experience for me. It was healing because I felt empowered to push past what I imagined I could bear. I learned because I sought out and used alternatives to medications. I came to open myself up and let go of all negative cultural ideas about birth. I learned to trust my body–something I had never imagined–and allow it to work at its own prescribed rate. Because of my satisfaction and empowerment through birth, I have felt more confident in my parenting abilities and goals. Whenever I get overwhelmed, I always have my music to help me regain my balance.

When selecting music for your own birthing experience, choose pieces that resonate with you. It is important to find compositions that evoke comfortable feelings of peace and security. Music can also be discordant and nerve-wracking, so try many pieces and tune into your feelings as you listen. How do they make you feel? What part of your body is most affected? Are you relaxing all of your perineal muscles or tensing them? Listen to your body and choose music that is conducive to rest and relaxation.

The state of mind of a laboring woman can be greatly affected by the sounds surrounding her. Help yourself to relax and flow with the process more serenely, using music therapy to create a joyful atmosphere for you and your baby.

For more information about the effect of music, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering: “Bebop Your Baby,” no. 68 “Keeping the Beat,” no. 62 “Sharing Music with Your Child,” no. 55.


Bassano, Mary. In the Flow. Kissimmee, FL: Mary Bassano, 1983.

Campbell, Doris. Music and Miracles. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1992.

Capacehione, Lucia. The Picture of Health: Healing Your Life with Art. Van Nuys, CA: Newcastle Publishing, 1996.

Crandall, Joanne. Self-Transformation through Music. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1986.

Garfield, Laeh Maggie. Sound Medicine. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 1987

Gaston, E. Thayer. Music in Therapy. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1968.

Joudry, Patricia. Sound Therapy for the Walkman. Palnetty, Saskatchewan, Canada: Steele and Steele, 1984.

Lieberman, Adrienne B. Easing Labor Pain. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1987

Lingerman, Hal A. The Healing Energies of Music. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1983.

McClellan, Randall. The Healing Forces of Music: History, Theory and Practice. Warwick, NY: Amity House, 1988.

Nordoff, Paul, and Clive Robbins. Music Therapy for Handicapped Children. Blauvelt, NY: Rudolf Steiner Publications, 1965.

Scarantino, Barbara Anne. Music Power. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1987

Verny, Thomas, and Pamela Weintraub. Nurturing the Unborn Child. New York: Dell Publishing, 1991.

For More Information

The following organizations offer musical selections and information on how music enhances healthy living.

Hearts of Space Box 31321 San Francisco, CA 94131

Music for Relaxation Institute for Human Development Box 1616 Ojai, CA 93023

Your local library can also be an inexpensive music resource.

RELATED ARTICLE: Suggested Birth Music

Different types of music may suit various phases of labor. In the early stages you may want a tape of nature, such as ocean sounds, to help you zone out and create a space for yourself. As your labor progresses, soothing, beautiful music, especially with strings, can help you stay calm and focused. At some point, you may yearn for spiritual sounds. Here are some suggestions to suit different needs.

Music to soothe and quiet Chopin, Polonaises Debussy, Clair de Lune James Galway (soloist), The Magic Flute, Annie’s Song Susan McDonald, miscellaneous harp music Mendelssohn, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Pachelbel, Canon in D Tchaikovsky, waltzes from The Nutcracker Suite, Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake

Music to help you focus J. S. Bach, Brandenburg Concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier Baroque string music of Vivaldi, Albinoni, Corelli, Torelli, and others Born Free soundtrack Brahms, Violin Concerto Handel, Water Music Telemann, Concerto for Three Violins and Orchestra Tibetan bells

Classic birth music J. S. Bach, Air on a G String Brahms, “Lullaby” Gluck, Dance of the Blessed Spirits Handel, “Largo” (from Xerxes) Koto flute Massenet, “Meditation” (from Thais) Dr. Hajime Murooka, Lullaby from the womb Saint-Saens, “The Swan” (from Carnival of the Animals) Wagner, “Evening Star” (from Tannhauser)

Spiritual music Berlioz, Hosanna, Sanctus Gregorian chants Grieg, “Nocturne” (from Lyric Suite) Handel, “Hallelujah Chorus” Mozart, Laudate Dominum, Psalm 116

Barbara Whitmore and her husband, Scott, live in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with their two daughters, Erynn Rose (3) and Samantha (1). A registered nurse who is studying for an external degree in sociology and women’s stud)” from Mary Baldwin College, she is active in promoting natural childbirth, homebirth, and breastfeeding. She attends Mothering Friends of Virginia Beach and has been published in various women’s magazines.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Mothering Magazine

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