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Vocalization and Use of Tones During Labor

7 Comments 13 August 2012

vocalization during labor

Have you ever moaned from a stomach ache? Think back to the noises you made and how they helped you to cope. More than likely, the moaning was a way for you to focus on something else other than the discomfort.

Vocalization is, for many women, one of the most instinctual ways to cope with the intensity of labor. It is a natural way to release the discomfort and energy of contractions through audible tones. I recommend that every woman keep vocalization and tones in her list of labor coping skills.

What is Vocalization?

Vocalization simply means the use of any audible noises by the mother during labor. This can include singing, groaning, moaning, humming, and various tones.

Benefits of Vocalization During Labor

Ina May Gaskin, famous midwife, is well-known for saying “Open Mouth, Open Bottom.” By this, she meant that the more relaxed your mouth and jaw during labor, the more relaxed and open your cervix will be.

Low-pitched vocalization and tones helps to relax your mouth and jaw, creating an “open mouth” and letting any stress and tension escape your facial muscles.

In addition to this relaxation of the mouth and jaw, vocalization offers these benefits:

  • Increased oxygen to mother and baby
  • Natural pain relief
  • A relaxed body

I especially like the use of tones as a coping mechanism because it does not require the mother to think, and allows her to experiment with the positioning of her lips, as well as experiment with different notes and levels of volume during each contraction.

Productive vs Unproductive Vocalization

During the most intense contractions, especially during transition, vocalization can sometimes be used in a less than productive way. A mother may begin to heighten the pitch of her tones as she experiences more intensity. But, higher pitched noises are counterproductive.

The most productive vocalizations for use in labor are low-pitched noises and tones; guttural noises such as groans, moans, and animal-like noises. Singing in low-tones is also a popular choice.

Stay away from high-pitched tones, screaming, and tense noises; these signify resistance or panic and can prevent progress.

Practicing Vocalization and Toning

use of tones during childbirthMaking these noises all of a sudden during labor can feel strange for some women and make them feel self-conscious. The best way to be prepared to make tones during your labor is to practice them during your pregnancy in preparation for birth.

Start by saying a few sentences in your normal speaking voice. Then, move into making a tone (try “oooh” or “awww”) from a pitch within that range. Keep with that tone for a moment, noticing how it feels, whether it is relaxing or straining. Move from that tone into a more relaxing and natural tone for you.

Experiment with different tones and sounds. Notice how they make you feel and how your body reacts to each one. Which ones relax you? Which ones make you feel at ease? which ones make you feel awkward and tense?

Tips for Labor Support Persons

If a mother seems panicked and is making high-pitched noises, try moving her to lower tones by making them yourself and asking her to mirror your tones.

Never make fun of a woman who is using tones and vocalization, no matter how funny it may sound to you. Snickering, etc, have no place during birth, unless the mother herself finds something amusing, then you can encourage her by letting her know that it may sound funny,but that it’s okay, and it’s helping her tremendously.


Vanessa Pruitt is a doula and the founding editor of Natural Family Today, where she writes about Natural Pregnancy and Birth.

Read more articles by Vanessa here.

Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Desiree Martinez says:

    I love this article. I plan on having a VBAC with this pregnancy and I would really love to try these tips. Thanks for sharing

  2. Shellee says:

    Great article!! Desiree, I had a VBAC last year and I am planning one again in Sept with my midwife. TRUST ME…the low tones work. It is truly amazing when you stay relaxed and lower your voice, how much progress you make. Transition does make you want to raise your voice, but if you stick with the low tones, your transition will go fairly quick!! Best of luck to you. VBAC’s are the way to go!!

  3. Sue Sene says:

    Yes! So true! I had a vbac last summer and hummed through my contractions. My husband brought me back when I started to get too high. I progressed very quickly!

  4. Courtney says:

    Wonderful article! I had a home birth 4 weeks ago and vocalization (quite a bit, actually) helped me tremendously. I know I was loud, but I couldn’t NOT be loud – thinking back on it now, it would have hurt more if I’d fought that instinct and couldn’t do what was natural to me.

    I had a horrible hospital birth with my first, and while I vocalized a bit, I was nowhere near as uninhibited as I could be at home. At home, I knew and felt very comfortable with everyone present, and wasn’t self conscious about making all the noise I needed to. I definitely ROARED my baby out! : )

  5. Deb says:

    I introduce this idea to my CBE and doula clients by asking them what sound they make after a bite of a really wonderful dessert. Then we call it “the dessert sound”. It takes away the emotional glitch some can have about “moaning”. In addition, professional singers taught me that dropping the jaw open automatically drops the tone into the chest. The most common statement at CBE class reunions is “vocalization saved my life!”

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