Music Can Ease Labor Pain - And Some CD Picks For You

Many women approaching childbirth labor are fearful of the pain they may experience. Some are also unwilling or unable to take medication to ease the pain. A new study provides hope for those seeking to lessen delivery pain without medications. How do they do it? Through the use of music.
Soft music decreased both sensation and distress of active labor pain in the first three hours and delayed increases in the distress of pain for an hour. For some participants relief was fairly substantial. Phumdoung has found that it can reduce the laboring mother's perception of pain and also her distress. Better pain management may speed recovery from childbirth and improve the mother-infant relationship.

The study, which appeared in the June 2003 issue of Pain Management Nursing, found that music can reduce the sensation of labor pain and decrease and delay the emotional distress that accompanies it. The study was led by Sasitorn Phumdoung, a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. Marion Good, associate professor of nursing at the Bolton School, was Phumdoung's dissertation advisor. Good's previous research, in an NIH-funded study, had found that this same music reduced pain after surgery.

Phumdoung studied two groups of laboring women, ages 20 to 30, who were all having their first baby. The study started when they were 3 to 4 centimeters dilated. One group chose from among five types of calming music and listened to it for the first three hours in the hospital after active labor began. The comparison group had the standard care during labor.

The group receiving music used a tape recorder and earphones to listen to the music, with 10-minute breaks each hour; the control group did not listen to any music. Phumdoung measured the women's reports of labor pain before the study began and hourly for the next three hours. During the three hours and at each hourly measure, the music group had significantly less sensation and distress pain than the control group.

"These findings have significant implications for women preparing to give birth," Good said. "Many women are afraid of the pain associated with childbirth, but are reluctant to take medication because of its possible effects on the baby and progress of labor. Soft music does not have these effects, and thus has the potential to be an effective and widely-used alternative to medication for easing pain during early active labor."

The study took place in two hospitals in Phumdoung's home country of Thailand, where she is on the faculty of the College of Nursing at Prince of Songkla University. In those two hospitals, the standard of care was to not give analgesic medication to laboring mothers because of its effect on the infant.

Music to birth by
So what kind of music should you look for when trying to choose soft music for your baby's birth? Here, Pregnancy & Baby's editors tell you their labor picks!

Paint the Sky with Stars: The Best of Enya
The Best of Enya "Enya is a natural for childbirth; I had my Enya CDs on hand for all of my births, but I especially remember how well her music soothed me during the labor of my third birth, a planned home waterbirth. As my labor ramped up -- at 3 am, no less -- I set my trustworthy Shepherd Moons disc to playing softly and slipped into the birthing tub we had rented. It was fitting, and very relaxing, to soak and labor to the swells of 'Caribbean Blue.' Before the rest of the house awakened, before the midwives arrived, before transition kicked in and the adrenaline surged... I was alone, floating and peaceful, with this sweet music on my side." - Betsy Gartrell-Judd, Editor
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The Best of the Brothers Cazimero
The Best of the Brothers Cazimero "For someone who spent many summers -- and a honeymoon -- in Hawaii, the music of the Brothers Cazimero evokes the most wonderful, peaceful memories of the islands. This disc is the next best thing to being there -- during labor, I could all but see the gorgeous ocean views, hear the soothing sounds of the surf, smell the gentle fragrance of plumerias, and bask in the rich warmth of the sun. The Brothers sing mostly in Hawaiian, of which I know only a couple of the most common words, but no matter. Although I typically prefer rock music, these graceful, mellow tunes brought me right back to Maui as they calmed and inspired me through labor."- Nancy Price, Editor
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Return to Pooh Corner
Return to Pooh Corner "Kenny Loggins wrote the poignant title song when he was in high school, mourning the loss of his childhood... and penned its signature warm-fuzzies ending (and recorded the disc's other tunes) when his wife was pregnant with the fourth of his five children. Like Loggins, I saw the circle of my life coming around again with my fourth pregnancy. When I heard this song on the way home from the routine ultrasound that showed a healthy, growing boy, I melted into tears. I could go back, it reminded me, to days filled with simple pleasures and everyday miracles that my first son, Tyler, showed me in his toddlerhood. Every song on this CD has something to stir a parent's soul; from classic lullabies to Loggins' own inspirations, it's heart-rending take on the parenting journey we share. Capturing in words how the music brought me through Zachary's birth is so very difficult... who can explain 'Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra'? Some things need to be felt, rather than said." - Vanessa Sands, Senior Editor
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