by Michele Brown
Pregnancy can be emotionally stressful due to the hormonal and physical changes that women experience during this special time. Mental changes can result in anxiety, depression, fear, and frustration which can have adverse effects on their infants.
Poor eating and sleeping patterns can limit overall functioning which can be associated with a higher risk of prematurity and low birth weights along with delayed infant development and negative temperaments in children.
How can women counter stress during pregnancy? Drug therapy always has risks of side-effects to both mother and child, making non-pharmacologic intervention a safer alternative.
Music has always been used as a form of therapy to reduce stress, pain, and anxiety. It promotes relaxation by creating a healing environment for physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. As early as 555 BC, a well known Greek philosopher and mathematician named Pythagoras felt that music was an important therapy in medicine to maintain good health and often recommended music to maintain harmony and healing in the body.
What Does Stress Do?
Stress can effect the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal cortex arousing the sympathetic nervous system. Music can cause a pituitary response with release of hormones and endorphins which are natural opiates that can relieve pain. It stimulates the thalamus and limbic areas of the brain, stimulating good feelings and emotions. Music has been shown to effect blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration along with emotional balance in adults.
Music: An Alternative Therapy
Pregnancy, delivery, and newborn care are likely areas to complement and expand conventional medical care by using alternative therapy such as music to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. Music has been found to stimulate pleasure response and distract from labor pains. Sidorenko published a paper in 2000 showing that music improved relaxation in pregnant women by decreasing heart rates, blood pressure, breathing patterns, and pulse. In addition there was a a reduction in the need of pain killers and improved sleep patterns, and reduction in the number of premature births. Women who listen to music during labor and delivery had reduced anxiety and decreased pain during childbirth for both vaginal and cesarean deliveries. It also allowed for decreased labor time and shortened hospital stay.
What Music Works Best?
The choice of music has been found to be important to its success. The most beneficial responses occur when the music is familiar, desirable and meaningful. Browning in Canada conducted a study demonstrating that music can be an important adjunct to pain and stress management during labor when the music was chosen by the mother, with emphasis on pieces that have significant meaning to both mother and her partner. Daily listening should begin by the third trimester to gain familiarity prior to labor in the hopes of promoting a positive conditioned response during labor.
Listening Guidelines During Pregnancy
Some additional guidelines published in the Journal of Perinatology in 2000 by the Physical and Developmental Environment of the High Risk Infant Center Study Group on Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Sound and the Expert Review Panel recommend that:
- Pregnant women avoid prolonged exposure to low frequency sound levels (
- Earphones and other devices for sound should not be attached directly to the gravid abdomen.
- The fetus does not require supplemental auditory experience for normal auditory development.
- Infant neonatal intensive units should develop a system of noise control since exposure to loud background noise will interfere with auditory development and frequency discrimination.
- Earphones and other devices should never be attached to the infants ears.
Listening to music can have physiologic effects on the pregnant woman which can result in positive effects on mood, stress and anxiety. This can enhance a strong sense of well-being and create a happier atmosphere which can promote fetal and maternal well-being.
Music and Your Baby
Music has also been found to be therapeutic to infants. Studies on premature and low birth weight infants have shown shorter hospital stays, less weight loss and fewer apnea episodes when taped music was played in intensive care unit settings. (Casino 1992, Stardley and Moore 1995) A study by Keith in 2009 showed significant reduction in frequency and duration of inconsolable crying in infants as result of music intervention, as well as improved heart rate, respirations, oxygen saturation and mean arterial pressure. Other studies showed an increase in head circumference and decreased heart rate in premature infants in the newborn intensive care unit between 28 and 32 weeks when listening to music. (Cassidy 2009)
A newborn infant has a predilection for the maternal voice and also to musical pieces heard in utero indicating that the fetus may have a capacity to learn in utero. (Gerhardt, 2000) It is believed that the fetus can hear by late gestation. Studies from Canada have shown heart rate increases in response to Brahms' Lullaby starting at 28 weeks.
Dr. Brown, founder of Beauté de Maman, is a board-certified member of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, a member of the American Medical Association, the Fairfield County Medical Association, Yale Obstetrical and Gynecological Society and the Women's Medical Association of Fairfield County. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Tufts University, completed her medical training at George Washington University Medical Center and completed her internship and residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Dr. Brown has a busy obstetrical practice in Stamford, Connecticut and, as a clinical attending, actively teaches residents from Stamford Hospital and medical students from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York.
Copyright © Michele Brown. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.