Hum, Chant, Sing, or Sigh: 5 Ways to Reduce Pain in Labor

Using sound in labor to reduce pain and stress is a time-tested tool.  Now we have science backing up what women have known for millennia.  Understand that your body has the innate ability to cope with labor and birth.  Trust your body.  Trust yourself.  Give these techniques a try.

One very effective technique to reduce pain in labor is using a moaning sound.  Like I discovered during both of my labors, women find using a low moaning sound (a deeper, lower tone) dramatically reduces the perception of pain.  I couldn’t get through a contraction without a low moan. Making a moaning sound induces relaxation because the vibrations of the vocal cords stimulate the pituitary gland to release endorphins.  Endorphins are chemicals or neurotransmitters that reduce stress and decrease pain and help with relaxation.  Endorphins act in the body the same way opioids or narcotics do. But those endorphins your body produces are more powerful than morphine!

Using low deep tones is very effective in relaxing the muscles of the body.  Your mouth is partly open, so your jaw is relaxed.  I’ve been told by so many of my students, “When I started moaning, things really started to move!  And my contractions were manageable instead of unbearable.”

Some women use prayer, another form of sound, while others may use a few choice words of profanity!  Whatever works for you is the right tool for you.  Dropping a few “F” bombs might help relieve a bit of tension – less tension, less pain. No judgment here!  But prayer and worship music may be a bit more positive.

Low moaning is similar to humming.  Studies have shown that humming increases nitric oxide production in the body.  Nitric Oxide relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels.  This causes the blood vessels to widen. In this way, nitric oxide increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure.  Humming Greatly Increases Nasal Nitric Oxide by Eddie Weitzberg and Jon O. N. Lundberg.   “Nitric Oxide increased 15-fold during humming compared with quiet exhalation.”  Making sound in labor is a powerful tool.

The Hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls pituitary gland function by making and storing chemicals and hormones. The pituitary gland is only the size of a pea but what a powerful little organ it is!  The pituitary gland tells other glands to release hormones and chemicals.  It affects countless bodily functions.  This part of the brain affects the autonomic nervous system – any involuntary action in the body – like a uterine contraction.  A study done by Telles, Nagendra, and Nagarathna showed that those who do chanting have improved cardiac output and lower blood pressure.  Chanting can help you to lower both your heart rate and your blood pressure.  Amazing!

Chanting can be as simple as singing or saying a song, a word, an affirmation over and over again.  Singing a simple church hymn or anything that resonates with or inspires you repeatedly can work as a chant.  Effective things to say again and again are: “one contraction at a time,” “I trust my body,” I can do this. I am doing this.”

Just like a horse flapping its lips when relaxed or playing, “Horse Lips” can relieve stress for a laboring mother.  Some moms use the flapping of the lips as she exhales her breath.  This is a way of relieving stress, or frustration, and thus reducing her experience of pain.  For some women, it releases tension in the whole body.

Take a deep breath and flap your lips as you exhale!

Using deep audible exhales can be a good tension reliever any time, not just during labor.  I use this technique during prenatal yoga frequently.  It just feels good.  So why not in labor?  Laboring mothers tend to sigh loudly.  What works is taking a deep breath in through the nose and making an audible sigh out through the mouth.

Another effective breathing technique is called “Centering Breath”.  Studies have shown that making exhales longer than your inhales can stimulate the relaxation response in your body.  “During the inhalation phase of a breathing cycle, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) facilitates a brief acceleration of heart rate; during exhalation, the vagus nerve secretes Acetylcholine which causes deceleration of the heart rate within beat-to-beat intervals via the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).” Christopher Bergland, The Athletes Way

Practice this breathing technique by inhaling to a count of four, exhaling to a count of 6-8.  After a short time, you will feel more relaxed.  In labor, you can have your birth support person count for you or you can count silently in your head during contractions.

Labor is hard work and this everyday miracle can be an emotional roller coaster.  Some laboring mothers feel the need to cry because they are tired, frustrated, or fearing that things are taking too long or are going to get more challenging.  Crying can be a good release and it’s okay to cry.  The birth support people should give her empathy and understanding, then encourage her that she has the strength to get through this.

If labor and birth were anything like the drama portrayed on TV and in movies, every laboring mother would be screaming.  But, thank goodness, that is not reality.  Screaming is unproductive and will increase tension and pain.   A screaming woman in labor has lost control, is overwhelmed by anxiety, and may even be having a panic attack.  Her fears have gotten the best of her and she needs your help.  Take her gently by the shoulders, make eye contact, and encourage slow deep breaths, long low moaning, and maybe a few horse lips.

Go ahead and make some noise. 

You’ll be amazed at how your body works and how invaluable using sound in labor can be!

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