Comfort Measures in Labor: Vocalization
When we watch movies or TV, they often portray a woman screaming a high pitched, “I’m dying” type scream as she labors. In many birth videos on YouTube, women welcome their baby in peace and quite. However, it is actually very common for neither of these to occur but rather a woman vocalizing in a low, long, and possibly loud moan. A moan I call a woman’s “birthing song.”
There is actually a growing amount of evidence that this type of vocalizing actually reduces pain and improves a woman’s birthing experience.
Scientists have not yet discovered what it is about moaning or vocalizing that helps in pain toleration. However, there are several suggestions of which all may play a part.
One possible reason vocalizing my help with pain management is that it may play a role in the pain gate theory. This theory says that our brain can only manage so much information at a time. If you overload your system, the nerves “close gates” to the brain so that only a small amount of info reaches the brain. This is why distraction methods can help with pain. This theory is the same that is behind the ice of using acupressure, TENS units, and keeping your eyes open while in pain.
Another suggestion is that vocalizing gives a mother a more constructive way to respond to the pain and, as such, aids in relieving her tension.
When we are in pain we typically respond in with clenched fists, doubled over, tightly closed eyes, wrinkled brow, holding breath, and every muscle tensed. In labor, this kind of response can increase adrenaline which will reduce oxytocin (what drives labor) causing labor to slow and lengthen. It also increases the perception of pain, reduces oxygenation to the muscles and baby, and leads to exhaustion much faster.
An alternate response is to relax into the pain. This can be encouraged through low, long moans. As a woman moans, her throat must soften and open. This improved breathing and reduces tension throughout the body. Ina May Gaskin explains this as being what she calls the “sphincter law.” She says, “If your jaw and mouth are slack so is your bottom (and that’s your baby’s door to your arms)!” While the cervix isn’t actually a sphincter muscle, relaxing such muscles helps to remind you to relax the rest of the muscles in your body. As the tension in your muscles relax, oxygen flow is increased and muscle exhaustion is decreased. This also helps to drop the level of adrenaline and increase oxytocin and endorphins (the body’s natural pain reliever).
“Vocal toning enhances that relationship and help women achieve focus and relaxation during labor.” (Better Birth Outcomes)
Another possibility may be that vocalizing may have the same psychological effect as a battlecry of a warrior. A person running into battle may scream out or someone practicing karate calls out “ayaaa!” is often thought to be a way to intimidate the enemy but also has a great effect on the one crying out to boost his/her confidence. Vocalizing in labor may have the same effect on a mother by boosting her confidence in her ability to birth her child. When a woman’s confidence is high in her ability, she more likely to ignore much of her pain.
How can vocalizing be used in labor?
Some mothers feel embarrassed by their “birthing song.” When birthing in a hospital, a mom may be afraid she will disturb other mothers. If this is the case, she may want to try just a quite, low moan or even humming a favorite song, hymn, or lullaby. A doula or your husband can also help by vocalizing with you.
Others, especially family, children, and first time fathers, may become concerned when mom starts vocalizing. They may worry that the pain is getting too much for her to bear. However, vocalizing is often a great sign that mom has found a way for her to cope that works for her. It may be a good idea to warn those who may be with you during your labor, especially children, so they do not become scared or distressed. You may want to encourage children who may be present to compliment your vocalizing so they can feel they are playing an important role and it will help them to remember this is a normal and good part of the labor process.
This article has great instructions on how to vocalize:
“Now take a good deep breath from the abdomen, open your throat, and let out a low-pitched “aaahhh”. Let your shoulders drop. As the laboring woman peeks in her contractions, this sound will like get louder and longer, and hopefully lower. The lower the sound, the more open her throat, the more relaxed and deep her breathing, the more her shoulders and jaw drop. Without the noise, she simply cannot be this relaxed.”
Vocalizing in labor is excellent way for a mom to be directly involved in relaxing, tolerating pain, and helping her baby stay well oxygenated. It can also help boost her confidence and make her feel stronger as she brings her baby into her arms. What is most important is that mom find her own “birthing song” and that she feels comfortable and supported in “singing” her baby out.
If you are in the Denton, TX area and are interested in hiring a doula for your birth experience, contact me today to schedule a free consultation. If you are interested in learning about more comfort measures in labor, check out my Comfort Measures page.
- Newell, Karen. “Vocal Toning For Childbirth.” Better Childbirth Outcomes. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2016.
- Ryan, Donna. “Sounding Your Labor: Are You In or Out of Control?” Banned From Baby Showers. N.p., 8 Aug. 2011. Web. 01 Aug. 2016.