Sound Advice

Musical Birth

Using Sound, Rhythm, and Music in the Pregnancy and Birth Experience

By Sally Niles, MT-BC, Doula

Whether we realize it or not, music is a part of us.  Even at the moment of conception.  How is this?

Conception begins through vibration and vibration is the beginning of sound.  Through sound, music is created.  As life begins in the womb, a fetus is developed around the sounds of her mother.

Did you know an unborn baby responds to sounds outside the womb around the 28th week of gestation?  A baby responds to the familiar voices of mother and father and can recognize these voices at birth.  In this case, music acts as the “mother voice.”

Is it possible to have an influence on an unborn baby’s brain?  Could sound, rhythm and music play a positive role in the prenatal period?  Absolutely!

Music and medicine specialists around the world believe music plays an important role in pregnancy, childbirth and beyond.

“Prenatal Parenting,” by Frederick Wirth, M.D., gives detailed accounts of fetal brain development and how parents can influence its development through healthy lifestyle choices.

Fetal brain development is such an awesome event, yet most don’t realize how we help shape and build a baby’s brain.  Wirth, along with other researchers in the health and medical fields, acknowledges the importance music makes during pregnancy and birth.  Dr. Wirth suggests that mothers take ‘fetal love breaks’ to incorporate music and meditation into their daily routines.  By doing these fetal love breaks three times a day, the physical and neurological chemistry of mother and unborn baby can be stimulated for better health and well being.

A fetal brain has about 200 billion nerve cells at 18 weeks gestation.  Music helps to stimulate these cells, and creates pathways for development and learning.  An example of this is demonstrated through mothers who listen to classical music during pregnancy.  The structure and form of classical music acts like “an architect” as it builds nerve pathways through auditory stimulation.

The use of music during pregnancy, birth, and beyond is a tremendous way parents can build not only baby’s brain, but also bond with baby.  The emotional tone music elicits affects baby, mom and dad.  Whether you are listening to happy and joyful music, nurturing and relaxing music, or exciting dramatic music, the strong feelings conveyed are transferred to the unborn baby through a “bio-chemical” wash of positive neurochemicals.

Many babies who have been conditioned to certain music before birth respond in a positive and familiar manner to the same music the first few months following birth and, sometimes, years later.  One mother, a harpist, played a particular harp song every day throughout her pregnancy, but did not play it following the birth of her daughter.  When her daughter was around 3 years old, the song was playing on a classical radio station and her daughter said to her, “Mommy, what is that song?  I know that song!”

Prenatal music therapy is not a new concept.  Music is used throughout history in every culture.  Some cultures even use music to feel connected to the universe since they believe music is a fundamental element governing creation.

One custom is a certain African tribe directs pregnant women to go into the wilderness with others and together they meditate and sing until each person “hears the soul” of the child.  Other cultures have included music in birth rituals.

So how do we bring music into today’s fast-paced world where technology is dominant in prenatal care?  Some women bring their own music to the birthing room while others watch TV.   A couple may choose to do more intentional experiences with music by consulting with a music therapist.  There are Board Certified Music Therapists who specialize in prenatal music therapy and birth support.

Sound Beginning, LLC creates customized music programs and products to help families bring peace and relaxation into the pregnancy and birth process.   Here are just a few examples of music used intentionally for healthy and positive benefits:

  • Annie and her husband sing together to their unborn baby every night before going to bed.  This helps them feel connected to their baby and creates a stronger bond for them as a couple.
  • Julie takes time for “Music & Meditation” during her lunch hour at work.  She listens to her favorite nurturing songs that help her to feel loved and supported.  Julies says this helps reduce her stress level while at work.
  • Sarah has combined the training she received in her childbirth classes with techniques learned from the Sound Beginning Program.  She conditions her muscles to relax when she listens to music programs customized to her needs.  That in turn will help her cope during the labor process.
  • Holly decides to have an epidural, but wants to incorporate music that will help her during the pushing phase of labor.  She works with her music therapist to find just the right type of music that fits her needs.

These are just a few scenarios of how music can affect pregnancy and birth in a positive manner.  Music for labor must be chosen carefully because of the physiological and psychological considerations of the different stages of labor.  A music therapist can custom design a program to fit a couple’s specific needs.

At Sound Beginning, the music therapist and couple work together and practice music therapy techniques in preparation for childbirth.  The main goal is to bring as much enhancement to the pregnancy and birth experience as possible through music, meditation, and creative experiences.

Music and living go hand in hand.  Through prenatal music therapy we can create contented and calm wombs and help foster loving and healthy relationships.  The simple gift of music can give future generations a head start in creating a more peaceful world.

“What we play is life.” – Louis Armstrong

(This article first appeared in AZHEALTH Magazine March 2004 issue.  This copy has been revised and edited by the author, Sally Niles, MT-BC, Doula, March 2006)