Are you about to give birth for the first time and feeling nervous about making too much noise?
This is actually a very common concern. Maybe you’ve seen the movies where people get very loud and aggressive while giving birth. They sweat and scream and yell and pant and curse their partners. In real life, it doesn’t often sound like it does in the movies, but there might be some noise. A lot of people feel nervous about this. They don’t want to be too loud, aggressive, dramatic, needy…..embarrassing.
Maybe you were a loud birth giver. Did someone tell you to be more quiet?
I make sure to mention in birth classes that people should NEVER be told to be quiet during labor. You are not needy, or obnoxious, or annoying if you feel like making a lot of noise in labor. You’ll see that you might even be quite wise.
I even like to teach birth partners how to encourage their laboring partners to make some helpful noises if they are being TOO quiet or if they are making panicky sounds that aren’t as helpful. Of course quiet laboring and deep breathing might be just the right thing for some people, but did you know that there are certain types of vocalizations that might actually be beneficial to the labor and birth process?
Different Types of Vocalizations
In birth classes, we talk about the connection between different types of vocalizations and different parts of the body that might be affected. When we make long low-pitched sounds, we can usually feel our pelvic floor muscles relax. This might sound like a moan, a growl, or even a roar. We might even feel some engagement from our lower abdominal core muscles as well, especially when the sound is low, breathy, and LONG. Squeezing out every last bit of breath can create some flexing in the abdominal muscles that are helpful for pushing.
I encourage students in virtual classes to keep themselves muted and practice a sound with me. Many people find themselves making those same sounds without any coaching during labor because they eventually figure out that it just feels good! It might not be a conscious decision. It just happens. It feels good, and it can also help make labor go more smoothly. When we can relax and alternately engage the right muscles, things tend to move along better.
For some of us, finding those muscles and doing the right thing with them at the right time does not come naturally. I was definitely one of those! The right vocalizations and movements can be very helpful especially in those cases. There was a great study published very recently about this topic. It shows some evidence that making the right sounds can also help minimize perineal tearing!
We know that when people have more positive feelings about their birth experiences and have less physical injury to recover from, breastfeeding success rates improve, risks for postpartum depression and other mood disorders are lower, and overall parenting and life satisfaction and confidence go UP! So, let’s make some noise!
Vocal Exercises that Benefit Labor
Try doing this:
- Make a high-pitched “eeeeee” sound. Notice what you feel in your body. Do certain parts get more tense? Pay special attention to your lower parts……your pelvic floor and anus.
- Then make a low-pitched growl “grrrrrrrrr”. What do you feel now? Is it different?
Most people will relax the pelvic floor muscles when they growl and tighten them when they make the high-pitched sound.
If you have trouble feeling a difference, you can also try this:
- Take a deep breath in. You should get bigger when you do this. Your chest rises, your belly inflates and rounds.
- Then flex your pelvic floor muscles. How? Imagine that you are peeing, but then you have to stop the flow of urine. How would you do that? What does that feel like? Do that.
- Then let your breath out with a long low moan. O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o. You might make a breathy sighing sound instead. Ha-a-a-a-a-a-a. You could also grunt out your breath. Gr-r-r-r-r-r.
Are you still keeping those pelvic floor muscles flexed? Probably not, right? That’s the point. It’s very hard to clench and tighten those muscles when you’re making those sounds. This is really beneficial for birth, because softening those muscles allows your baby to move out more easily and quickly, with less pain, and minimizing the risk of tearing.
There are also some vocal exercises that can help by engaging the right pushing muscles. Some people do it right naturally, but not everyone has an easy time finding the right muscles to push their babies out. Sometimes grunting is helpful. Making the ‘Haaaaaaaa’ sound might work. There are even some people who figured out that singing certain songs or vocal exercises helped them push their babies out! There have been some interesting studies showing that singing might be helpful for pain control and overall improvement in the birth experience.
Besides actually changing the way you work your muscles, sounds can help you feel better just through the enjoyment we get from the sound. Singing can sound nice and be a good distraction. This helps by keeping us relaxed and happy. Anytime you are more relaxed in labor, you are getting great benefits.
During some parts of labor, people actually do feel determined, aggressive, or even angry! It might feel good to yell and curse, or ROAR!!!!! Imagine a warrior in a kilt carrying a big heavy sword and ready to charge their opponent on the battlefield. Maybe you can picture a professional football player about to charge and tackle the quarterback. What sound will those warriors make? It usually does sound like a roar. In labor, there might be a time where you feel like being a warrior, so go for it!
Watch this video with Becky Maidansky, a pelvic floor physical therapist with Lady Bird Physical Therapy for some help in understanding the physiology behind certain sounds: