Music can do … In pregnancy – The use of music in reducing anxiety and stress in pregnant women

Music can do … In pregnancy – The use of music in reducing anxiety and stress in pregnant women

Many studies have shown the positive effect of music in reducing stress and increasing well-being in pregnancy, helping future mothers also to relax during labor and experience less pain, with greater satisfaction with the experience of childbirth.

Mazzieri Elena – OPEN SCHOOL Cognitive Studies, San Benedetto del Tronto


Advertising message Anyone who has become pregnant has heard, at least once, “what a great experience!”. Those who passed before us seem to almost minimize and make everything seem like a walk. There are those who say that after all it is not so painful and that everything returns as before. Obviously, the joy of embracing your child for the first time is greater than any difficulty you may have gone through, including labor and delivery. But let’s face it, pregnancy and childbirth are not necessarily all positive experiences!

We are all concerned about the thought of the pain we will experience, the physical, mental and social changes that we will have to face and the new daily challenges that await us both before and after the birth of the baby. However, not all of us face all this with the same serenity. For some of us, the thought of pregnancy and childbirth can be a source of stress and cause great psychological suffering. And all this, unfortunately, neither helps us nor the baby we carry (Wulff et al., 2017). Studies have shown that if the mother is anxious, depressed or stressed during pregnancy, the probability of the baby being born premature increases (Lee et al., 2007) and that she develops, after birth, psychological difficulties (anxiety depression),

For the expectant mother, anxiety and stress during pregnancy may result in an increased likelihood of suffering from postpartum depression (Lee et al., 2007). Furthermore, high levels of anxiety can cause an increase in the perception of pain at the time of labor, which is experienced with greater pain (Lowe, 1989; Alehagen et al., 2005; Carr et al., 2005; Renn & Dorsey ; 2005). Among other consequences, the intense perception of pain can lead to a lower satisfaction on the part of the woman compared to the experience of childbirth. We can therefore speculate that the women mentioned above, who speak positively and optimistically about pregnancy and childbirth, lived this experience with less pain (Goodman et al., 2004).

It is very important to emphasize how these possible negative consequences can occur not only in the face of anxious states and mentally diagnosed and significant mental disorders, but also in the face of moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression (O’Donnell et al., 2014).

Many women do not want to take drugs during pregnancy for fear of harm to the fetus and, moreover, with mild symptoms it would not even be appropriate to propose them. It then becomes essential to find non-pharmacological methods and interventions to decrease the levels of anxiety and stress in future mothers (Glover, 2014).

Of course, among non-pharmacological interventions, psychotherapy plays a primary role. In particular, the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral or interpersonal interventions has been demonstrated. Unfortunately, however, this type of intervention is often not accessible to all women who would need it (Nwebube et al., 2017), often also for economic reasons.

Other types of interventions were then studied, low-cost and accessible to all, which could help pregnant women to adequately cope with anxiety and stress.

In particularly stressful moments, or simply when we want to relax, one of the first things we do is listen to our favorite music. Such a simple and daily gesture, like turning on the radio in the car or listening to our playlist on Spotify helps us to distract ourselves and make daily activities less tiring. Everyone has their own musical tastes, and chooses a certain genre based on mood or time of day. We choose the right song to give us the energy in the morning before facing the work day, the one that helps us train better in the gym, the one that makes us relax in the evening, the one that puts us in the mood to go out with friends or the one we listen to at full volume to release the tension of the day. Let’s face it, we all improvise skilled singers in the shower! And how much we like to sing our favorite song out loud! Aware that our shower will not be there to judge whether or not we have the “X Factor”, we give free rein to our voice and our mood improves rapidly. And it’s not just our impression! Scientific studies have shown how music can alter the mood of the person who listens to it (Juslin & Sloboda, 2001). So one wonders: can music help pregnant women to feel less anxious and less stressed? And it’s not just our impression! Scientific studies have shown how music can alter the mood of the person who listens to it (Juslin & Sloboda, 2001). So one wonders: can music help pregnant women to feel less anxious and less stressed? And it’s not just our impression! Scientific studies have shown how music can alter the mood of the person who listens to it (Juslin & Sloboda, 2001). So one wonders: can music help pregnant women to feel less anxious and less stressed?

Music is now part of our lives and, thanks to new technologies, we have the opportunity to access our favorite songs at any time and to create, through special apps, the most suitable playlist for every purpose. Can we think of creating an anti-stress playlist for pregnancy?

Scientific studies, before pregnancy, have applied music clinically to reduce anxiety in patients who need to undergo surgery (Thoma et al., 2015; Hole et al., 2015). Listening to music before, during and after an operation can reduce anxiety, stress and pain and can also lead to lower use of analgesics (Nilsson, 2008; Ikonomidou, 2004). Will the same also apply to pregnancy and childbirth?

Many studies have shown that music has a positive effect in reducing stress and increasing the well-being of expectant mothers, helping them to relax during labor and to experience less pain, with a consequent greater satisfaction with the experience of childbirth ( Wulff et al., 2017).

Listening to music before amniocentesis helps reduce levels of state anxiety and cortisol (Ventura et al., 2012). Singing lullabies during pregnancy decreases self-reported anxiety levels and increases emotional expression, resulting in a more positive pregnancy experience (Carolan et al., 2012).

In a study conducted by Nwebube et al. (2017), a group of pregnant women was instructed to listen, for a period of 12 weeks, to songs composed using specific rhythms typical of lullabies, with texts concerning relevant pregnancy topics and phrases aimed at inducing a state of calm, with repetitions of baby-talk terms and invitations to connect and view the fetus. At the end of the 12 weeks the levels of anxiety and depression in this group of women decreased statistically significantly.

Shobeiri et al. (2016) demonstrated the positive effect of music-based interventions on sleep problems associated with pregnancy. Between the thirty-fourth and thirty-fourth week of pregnancy, the women participated in two 60-minute sessions in which the use of music therapy was explained to them and the CD was provided for daily use during the following four weeks. The women involved in the project showed an improvement in sleep quality.

Other studies (Chang et al., 2008; Chang et al., 2015) have shown how music managed to decrease the level of stress and anxiety perceived towards pregnancy.

Music also has a positive effect on the somatic symptoms of expectant mothers. Cao et al. (2016), used music as a supplement to the classic treatment of gestational hypertension.

Advertising message Playing and singing also lead to an improvement in the quality of life of women and contribute to creating a positive mother-child bond (Carolan et al., 2012). Although the experimental group was very small (six participants), the results show how singing lullabies improves the ability to relax and helps women feel more connected to the baby they are carrying. Considering the fundamental role played by the mother-child bond in the construction of various skills, including social aspects (Suess et al., 1992), Persico et al., (2017) have designed a research during which a musician has taught future different moms lullabies, among which each mother chose the one that would continue to sing on a regular basis during pregnancy and after the birth of the baby. These mothers showed significantly lower levels of stress and, moreover, their children woke up more than four times a night less frequently than the children in the control group. Three months after childbirth, the mother-child bond was significantly better in the experimental group than in the control group, demonstrating that singing during pregnancy has positive effects on mothers, children and their bond.

The birth of the baby and the pain of contractions and labor are one of the most painful experiences in a woman’s life (Melzack 1984). To deal with labor and make the birth experience as positive as possible, in addition to pharmacological interventions, various methods can be used that do not involve the use of medicines both before and during childbirth. For example, women who practice yoga have been shown to experience less pain and more satisfaction with their birth during birth than women who do not use this method (Smith et al., 2011). Music seems to have both relaxing and pain-reducing effects (Phumdoung & Good, 2003).

If the woman has already learned how to relax with the help of music before childbirth, listening to music during labor can be a useful pain management strategy, helping the woman to distract and relax more easily (Browning, 2002).

Even music-based interventions offered only during childbirth seem to have positive effects. Phumdoung and Good (2002) have indeed shown that listening to music for three hours during the active phase of labor has a positive effect in reducing stress and the sensation of pain. These same results, however, have not been confirmed by Liu et al., (2010), who have shown how the positive effects of music in reducing pain and anxiety occurred only in the latency phase of childbirth, while there were no differences between the control group and the experimental group in the active phase.

A few years later, Simavli et al. (2014) demonstrated that listening to music of one’s choice during childbirth helps to perceive lower levels of pain and anxiety, as well as to experience better childbirth satisfaction.

Caesarean delivery can also lead to high levels of anxiety and stress in women (Statistisches Bundesamt Mehr Krankenhausentbindungen 2015; Bl├╝ml et al., 2012).

Listening to music while waiting for cesarean section involves a decrease in negative emotions in mothers as well as a significant reduction in systolic pressure, an indication of less stress and anxiety (Kushnir et al., 2012; Li & Dong, 2012).

Not all research, however, agree on these results (Reza et al., 2007; Chang & Chen, 2005), stating that the positive effects of music have not been found also on physiological parameters, but only, if we can say so , on the subjective ones of anxiety and stress reported (Chang & Chen, 2005).

The researchers, therefore, seem to confirm that music can help women relax and feel lower levels of pain during childbirth, as well as favoring a positive mother-child bond. So women, headphones on your ears, favorite music at full volume and … good luck! As the grandmothers used to say, sing that (maybe) it will pass!