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
Making 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.