Choosing the Right Music for Labor and Birth

Pregnant woman and baby with headphones

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When asked what music is best for labor, most women and men will give you answers that entail soft selections, peaceful and calming music, or nature sounds. While these might be great for some women, they are not perfect for others.

Picking Music for Labor and Birth

During the childbirth classes that I teach about using music in labor, I ask everyone to play a really fun game. I've got a playlist on my smartphone that is entitled "Childbirth Class". In there I have a very unique selection of music. The instructions are to raise your hand if it's something that you might consider listening to for your birth—then I start the music.

The class gets to hear song selections from Beethoven to Prince, Sarah McLachlan to Hot Chocolate, and Amy Grant to the Mamas and the Papas. Some songs are slow, some are fast, some are merely ocean sounds or drum beats set to a baby's heartbeat. There is never one song that everyone loves or everyone hates. It just goes to prove that music choice is much more personal than many believe when it comes to labor.

For Pain Relief: Think About Songs That Make You Want to Turn up the Volume

To use music as a source of pain relief and relaxation in labor, you must feel a sense of connection with the music that is playing. If you choose the right music, you can:

  • increase your body's production of endorphins (nature's morphine-like substance used to combat pain in labor)
  • reduce the production of stress hormones

So, what songs do that? The songs that will help you fight the pain of labor and make it more comfortable consist of the type of music that makes you turn up your radio and sing even if people in the car next to you are staring at you. It's the music that makes you move in your seat, even when you know you should sit still. It can be music that you danced to at your wedding, it can be your favorite songs from high school, it can simply be music that you currently just really, really love. This is why it's different for everyone.

Where to Start With Your Birthing Music

I'd recommend that you listen to a variety of music while you are pregnant, long before your due date.

See what types of songs relax you, see which ones get you to sing along and dance. You can even think about creating a few different playlists that hold different moods and types of songs.

In all my years as a doula, I've seen women give birth while listening to the Best of Bach and turn around and attend another birth where Pink Floyd was on tap. The bottom line is to choose music that you like. I do encourage you to find a selection of fast or moderate paced music for early labor to help you dance and sway in order to help rock the baby down into your pelvis. Then add some slower music for a calming effect in later labor or transition.

Lastly, you don't want to forget to pack a small set of portable speakers in your labor bag.

1 Source
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  1. Simalvi S, Gumus I, Kaygusuz I, Yildirim M, Usluogullari B, Kafali H. Effect of music on labor pain relief, anxiety level and postpartum analgesic requirement: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation. 2014;78:244-250. doi:10.1159/000365085

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.