Vocalizing in Labor

Posted by on in Labor and Delivery

There was an interesting study done a short time ago confirming a commonly held belief in the childbirth field. This study concluded that the cervix and vocal fold tissue behave similarly when tested.

Many women express a fear of being noisy at birth. I believe it is a byproduct of our culture. Women, as of a few years ago, were taught to be seen and not heard - this belief is still prevalent in some subcultures of Americana. And, more recently, women are 'supposed to be' poised, confident, and in control. Regardless if you are of the 'seen and not heard' camp or the 'poised, confident, and in control' group, there is little room for noisy birthing there.

One of the simplest 'tricks' in my bag is to simply make noise. Women who seem to be doing so well with labor, then suddenly blurt out that they can't go on, they need some help, and they need an epidural - those women I immediately encourage to make some NOISE.

For decades, professionals such as Ina May Gaskin, Robert Bradley, Barbara Harper, and Maria Iorillo have all said the same thing: when a woman's mouth and throat is loose - so is her bottom. And now we have proof of this: when the throat is open, this opening is reflected in the throat of the uterus, the cervix.

Part of this is being completely uninhibited. When women feels safe and secure enough to use whatever means necessary to birth a baby, without fear of seeming silly or embarrassed, they are more apt to use vocal noises - and this release of tension, as a byproduct, allows any tension in their bottoms to release.

Consider the very real phenomena of performance anxiety: some people feel it when trying to use the bathroom in public areas, some feel it when singing... when we feel private, safe, and uninhibited, we are able to open our mouths and bottoms to achieve a goal.

When anxiety sets in, the body reacts by tightening. Fear or anxiety, even the feeling of needing to perform a certain way, creating tension, releases adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone). Adrenaline constricts tissue in the body (think: 'ready to spring into action') and does not allow for softening and relaxing. Imagine when you were really frightened or upset, your vocal register raises, sometimes breaking, sometimes coming out in screeches. These 'upper registers' require your vocal cords to be tight, as your body is when confronted or upset and anxious.

Now, not ANY noise is good noise - it has to be a certain type of noise. It doesn't matter if it is loud or quiet, but it does matter what form it takes. Positive noise includes:

  • Open glottis
  • Deep breathed
  • Relaxed jaw
  • Resonating

Some examples of these noises are vibrating hums (when the jaw is relaxed), horse lips (per Ina May Gaskin), ooohs, aaahs, uuuuhs, naughs, and even singing.

Singing is an amazing vocal labor relaxation technique. It helps to control your breathing, encourages deep breathing, and keeps your vocal chords, jaw, and body relaxed. It also works through distraction from contractions and focus on resonation.

During labor, it is helpful for women to know positive birth sounds and phrases so that she can consciously check her anxiety or fear level and forcefully relax her body to encourage a more easy labor and dilation. A birth partner or doula can listen to the quality and timbre of the laboring woman's voice to assess if it is tight, constricted, or high-pitched.

To encourage better labor sounds, the partner or doula can hum, sigh, ahh, oooh, or even show 'horse lips' in lower-register tones with open glottis. This allows for proper breathing, intonation, moderate distraction, and relaxation. There are many benefits to staying conscientious of your vocal tone:

  • Opens the throat, which opens and relaxes the pelvis
  • Ensures deep and long breathing
  • Promotes relaxation of the mind and body, releasing stress and anxiety, inhibiting 'fear, tension, pain cycle'
  • Serves as a productive pain management tool
  • Creates vibration in the body, which can relax your muscles

To help prepare for understanding of these benefits, it can be helpful for couples to practice 'good labor sounds' before hand. It is often awkward and sometimes even embarrassing, but can be a good tool to encourage uninhibited labor and closer communication between partners. Partners understanding, beforehand, that sound is GOOD in labor will be able to be better prepared for the possibility of it occurring. Women practicing it beforehand will understand the difference between productive and unproductive noise for labor and birth.

Remember, open throat, open cervix.

Nicole Deelah, CBE, MW apprentice, & Doula
Serving Houston to the Gulf
c: 616-558-4436

Bellies & Babies Blogger
Sage Beginnings

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Pam is a mom of six (including twins) and is a self described "birth junkie". Over the past 17 years she has spent 3 years pregnant, 7 years breastfeeding (including 17 months nursing twins), and has been changing diapers for 13 years and counting. She blogs at dakotapam.com. Pam graduated in 1993 from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature.