When I was only a few weeks away from giving birth to my son I went to visit a dear friend who had recently returned home from the hospital after the birth of her baby boy. In anticipation of my own upcoming birth experience, I eagerly asked my friend how it went.
She shared that she ‘screamed and screamed’ in response to the severe pain she felt during contractions.
That didn’t sound good!
Not the pain bit. I was mentally prepared for birth to be painful and I already knew from my diligent birth-preparation-research that sound could be beneficial in labour, but I also knew that not just any old ‘sound’ would do the trick. I knew that high, panicky sounds made during labour could be counter productive and could actually exacerbate a birthing mother’s pain by triggering a stress-response. Instead I knew it was important to engage low, deep sounds as a natural pain management technique.
A month later I had the opportunity to test out this idea for myself. And I can confidently say that there was no way I could have endured such a long, challenging labour without the tool of sound.
The efficacy of sound as a pain management tool has long been acknowledged in natural birthing circles.
Using sound to help manage labour pain was perhaps first posited by well known midwife Ina May Gaskin.
Obstetric physiotherapist Juju Sundin writes in her book, Birth Skills: Proven Pain Management Techniques for your Labour and Birth, ‘If you work off excess adrenalin with sound and activity your oxytocin (a hormone that increases the efficiency of contractions during labour) will flow more proficiently’. She also writes that vocalizing helps build our endorphins (our natural opiate hormones) and produces a ‘wonderful non-painful rhythmic focus to concentrate on’.
Try it yourself! Here’s a simple exercise that will illustrate the power of sound in changing our relationship to deep, intense sensations within the body.
This practice is a great rehearsal for labour as it not only teaches you the power of sound but also helps you get used to the length and rhythm of labour contractions which can last for anywhere between 30 – 90 seconds.
Come into the Standing Goddess or Horse Pose—feet wide apart, toes turned out and bottom dropped towards the floor so you’re in a wide, legged, standing squat (see illustration).
First make sure your posture is as aligned as possible—lengthen the tailbone towards the floor, draw your belly back towards your spine, position your shoulders in line with your hips, and open your knees towards the little-toe edge of your feet.
Have a timer at the ready. Hold this pose for 60 seconds, doing nothing in particular other than trying to drop as deeply as you can into this standing squat pose to challenge yourself throughout the 60 second timing. Then come out of the pose and shake your legs out and rest for a few moments. Mentally observe how it felt for you to hold this strong pose for the timing.
Now, repeat the pose again and hold for another 60 seconds but this time use sounds to carry yourself through the timing. Make sure the sounds you make are through an open relaxed mouth and that they are long, low sounds, emanating deep from your lower belly and hips. Try long vowel sounds like ‘aaaaaaaah’, ‘uuuuuuuh’ and so on.
Again, when you come out of the pose at the end of the timing note how you feel this time as opposed to the first time. I’d be very surprised if you didn’t notice how much more easeful it was when you used the tool of sound to maintain this challenging posture and work through the intense sensations caused by your thigh muscles burning.
I recommend pregnant women practise this exercise as well as some other Active Birthing positions accompanied with sound and gentle movement such as circling the hips in the all-fours position (see illustration).
And women can also get more comfortable with sounding by working with simple om-chanting practices. In our Bliss Baby Yoga Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course we teach a wonderful practice that involves consecutively chanting the three component sounds of ‘om’—‘ahhhh’, ‘uuuuuuh’, ‘mmmmm’—and then fusing them together into the mantra ‘Auuummmm’.
Ana Davis is the Director and Founder of Bliss Baby Yoga, and is the lead teacher on our Online Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course and Online L1 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training course. Ana has also shared a number of Online Yoga Classes for pregnancy and the postpartum period, and offers One-on-One Online Mentoring sessions and Personalised Online Yoga Classes.
If you are passionate about teaching Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga and would like to further your skills and knowledge through some additional professional development, we also offer Online Prenatal and Postnatal Anatomy & Physiology, Pelvic Floor Anatomy & Physiology for Women’s Health and Perinatal Nutrition & Ayurveda Extension Modules.