Psychological Benefits of Music During Pregnancy and Postpartum

Issue # 
August 26, 2022

An earnest editorial from the currently *very pregnant* founder of Spiritune, Jamie Pabst.

As I’m writing this, I’m exactly one day away from giving birth. This is my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was at the height of the pandemic - precisely three months into quarantine and two months into the launch of my business baby, Spiritune, a mission-driven vision to make music that works harder for your health.

The coinciding timeframes of birthing these two special forces into the world have made the intersection of maternity, mental health, and music a vital topic to me. It's given me firsthand experience about how music during pregnancy can contribute to improved well-being and mental health outcomes for the mother and  unborn baby throughout the pregnancy.  ​​

Pregnancy is a unique experience that looks and feels vastly different for almost every mother and mother-to-be. It is an exciting time filled with eagerness and anticipation around growing and birthing a new life into the world. But it can also be overwhelming and challenging to cope with all the changes that come with it. And it can feel even more difficult when you’re concerned that your pregnancy journey isn’t going as you envisioned it would. 

This uncertainty can cause physical, mental, and emotional strain - not even factoring in the additional physiological, biochemical, and psychological changes that pregnancy brings for expectant mothers. Given all these significant changes, it’s no wonder most expecting women suffer from mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Research has shown that up to 33 percent of women experience clinical anxiety or depression during pregnancy. Yet some studies indicate that fewer than 20 percent seek treatment and that treatment is often inadequate. 

There’s still a broadly held belief that pregnant women must be happy and excited as they are growing a life. And because of that, treatment providers are often less likely to check in on a woman's mental state. And even worse, there is a lot of stigma or guilt around a woman bringing it up.

But given my work building Spiritune and our vision around delivering music as medicine, I am sitting here (fully baked) to share some research and knowledge about music’s powerful and positive influence. And specifically, its ability to help navigate the emotional rollercoaster of the pregnancy journey - prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal. 

Birthing playlists or “push playlists'' have become a wonderful trend to support women through delivery - from the first contraction to the moment of meeting your child. However, you can harness the clinical power of music therapy at whatever stage of pregnancy you're in - whether you’re trying to conceive, just receiving the news that you’re pregnant, dealing with pregnancy-related stress and anxiety, pregnancy complications or postnatal depression - and everything in between.

Music can be a safe, simple, non-pharmacological option that can significantly contribute to mental health in pregnancy and after childbirth. So what exactly are some of the psychological benefits of music for pregnant and postpartum women? 

Let’s break it down: 

Music and Anxiety

Anxiety symptoms are a psychological response to stress and as many as two-thirds of pregnant women struggle with them at some point during their pregnancy. However, music’s various biological, psychological, and social benefits can offset such symptoms by promoting feelings of calm, relaxation, and positivity within both body and mind.  

Research demonstrates that as little as 20 minutes of music a day across 12 weeks of pregnancy can significantly reduce symptoms of both anxiety and depression in expectant moms, and 30 minutes of music before stressful clinical events can reduce both feelings of anxiety and cortisol (the stress hormone) in pregnant women.

Music and Labor

Music has even been shown to reduce anxiety during labor itself and, with it, both heart rate and blood pressure. High anxiety levels at this time are expected, but they are linked with worse outcomes for both mother and child. Music helps by stimulating pleasure and providing a distraction that enables both better tolerance of pain and coping throughout.  

Another way music supports the birthing experience is by increasing the secretion of endorphins - the brain’s natural pain relievers. Not only can these reduce pain intensity during labor, but they lower the sympathetic nervous system activity, which includes heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and immune stress, reducing anxiety still further.  

Music and Postnatal Depression

High anxiety levels may also work against women adapting to motherhood in the initial postpartum period. Again music can help. Listening to music during the third trimester of pregnancy is not only associated with lower levels of postnatal depression but also with higher levels of general well-being in the first three months post birth. 

Music therapy also has a significant effect on relieving the symptoms of existing postpartum depression, as well as associated pain and anxiety that could negatively impact how a woman interacts with her infant. It also serves to improve sleep quality and satisfaction, which go towards enhancing mood and makes early bonding with your child much easier. 

Music and Bonding

Mother and baby sharing music can also be a special way in which they can develop a strong relationship. Babies begin responding to music in the womb and can remember the songs heard there and demonstrate a clear preference for them. Studies highlight that this music is even more effective than speech in reducing their distress

Music has also been shown to significantly raise oxytocin levels in the body. Known as the love hormone, oxytocin plays a pivotal role in the formation of cohesive mother-infant bonds. Singing, in particular, can increase maternal well-being and perceived mom and baby closeness both during pregnancy and beyond.

Bottom line: Understand that as a new mother or mother-to-be - whatever stage of pregnancy you’re in, your feelings are valid, whether positive or negative.  Embrace them, do not feel ashamed to talk about them, and reach out for help. 

Every woman needs and deserves support, and participation in preventive activities, such as music therapy, during pregnancy impacts better emotional states after childbirth. That’s why we are excited about partnering with maternal care companies like Poppy Seed Health to support the needs of women throughout their journey. Spiritune is excited to give you the right type of music to support you in whatever stage or emotional phase you’re in on your journey during this profoundly special time.

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