A young kid listens to music through headphones.
Research continues to hint at an array of psychological and physical benefits to music, even at the earliest ages. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Music has always played a significant role in my life.

I started piano lessons at age 4. To this day I still remember the recitals, some where I’d occasionally sing along with the pieces.

I continued lessons into high school, playing several instruments in band and jazz band.

Through the years, music would come to serve different purposes to me. But it always took on increasingly important roles.

It helped calm me if I got upset and soothed me if I grew sad. I played piano in college to help me relax and de-stress before big exams.

Given a choice, I typically go for certain styles of music over others, but there aren’t many styles I don’t like.

How does this play into the world of pregnancy and childbirth?

Well, given my love and deep enjoyment of music, I made sure music played a prominent role in several of my labors.

Some time ago, I created a CD featuring piano songs and other music. About a month before all of my due dates, I would start listening to that CD. I would set time aside just to sit and listen, focusing on relaxation, trying to help my body relax when cued by the music.

Healing power

What do we really know about using music in labor?

It might help to first understand how music plays a role in other areas of treatment. The American Music Therapy Association details a fascinating array of populations that use music therapy for various purposes, including pain management, crisis and trauma, correctional facilities and more.

Spectrum Health uses music for therapy in rehabilitation. It improves memory and movement, with music therapists using it to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals.

Researchers have long recognized that music plays a role in psychological relief, but there is increasing evidence that it can be used to address physical pain, too.

Music therapy has been known to have positive physical effects, including lower respiration rates, lower blood pressure, more relaxed muscles, lower stress and lower pulse.

There have also been studies about music’s role in soothing babies, who learn to recognize and prefer familiar music.

I also read a study that suggested music can help with the pain of contractions. When your brain hears music it likes, it releases endorphins, which are calming and relaxing.

So if music plays a role in improving feelings during childbirth and pregnancy, is there any certain type that’s better?

In the past we would teach that the best music is lullaby-like, or something calming that doesn’t necessarily have a driving beat. We’ve since learned this is not always true.

It probably comes down to personal taste.

I remember giving a tour of the family birth center to a patient who liked to listen to a particular rapper who used a lot of profanity, and the patient had asked if she could listen to that rapper during labor.

I asked her if listening to that would help her relax.

“Yes,” she said.

And that was that. It helped her relax. In that case, we didn’t even have to worry about the music interfering with others nearby, because she planned to wear earbuds while listening.

This is a good idea no matter what you’re listening to, coincidentally, because it’s important to be considerate of other patients in your environment.

But the bigger point is, you should listen to the music that helps you relax the most.

A music therapy study some years ago found that patients were better able to tolerate pain when they could listen to the music of their choosing. There are many other studies that tout the benefits of music therapy.

Researchers in Turkey and elsewhere have found that mothers reported feeling less pain during labor when they were able to listen to music.