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Natural Awakenings Bucks and Montgomery Counties PA

Editorial: Music Therapy during Pregnancy

Feb 01, 2013 06:00PM
Natural Care for Optimal Fetal Development

by Elizabeth Collins Cook

In modern society, there is a significant amount of stress, both emotional and environmental. These stressors require the ability to remain cool under pressure, and a mother can help prepare her baby for the world into which she will be born by counteracting our reactive evolutionary programming.

Music therapy offers several safe, effective and even fun research-based interventions that can decrease prenatal stress and anxiety. The positive effects on brain chemistry of listening to and making music has traversed academic literature. Neuro-scientists and music therapists now collaborate in the exploration and development of music-based preventative and curative interventions.

In response to copious studies illustrating the negative long-term health effects of untreated prenatal stress and anxiety on fetal and infant health and development, follow-up research has examined the uses of music and music therapy to decrease stress hormone levels in order to improve the health of the pregnancy, fetal health and maternal Music Therapy during Pregnancy Natural Care for Optimal Fetal Development by Elizabeth Collins Cook well-being. A 2011 Harvard review examining the effectiveness of music-based intervention on stress and anxiety indicated that, overall, participants reported feeling less stressed after listening to music. Furthermore, those that participated in a music experience led by a trained music therapist, exhibited measurable decreases in physiological stress and anxiety indicators, i.e. stress hormones levels, respiration and heart rate.

Music-assisted relaxation and guided imagery and music (GIM) have also been proven useful in decreasing anxiety and stress in pregnant women. Music therapy during pregnancy can be done privately or in groups and in a variety of ways. The first method is music-assisted relaxation and entails listening to live or recorded music while the therapist verbally instructs the mother through breathing and relaxation exercises. The second method, GIM therapy, goes beyond relaxation and is designed to support the discovery of unconscious thoughts or concerns about the transition into motherhood. This unconscious material, which may be aggravating stress and anxiety levels, can be brought to the conscious level and worked through with a therapist.

The final method is participatory group music making, which allows women to sing lullabies together or choose an instrument with which they feel comfortable for a musical improvisation. Instruments provided require no prior training or knowledge and can include percussive instruments—such as the triangle, drums, wood blocks, tambourines and even hand clapping—or melodic instruments, like the xylophone, piano, voice, guitar, slide flute, tin whistle or kazoo. The purpose of these group experiences is to increase social connection and induce laughter and fun. An increased sense of connection to a supportive community can decrease levels of anxiety, stress, fear and the sense of being alone. Ideally, the social connections made continue beyond the boundaries of formal music therapy to create a natural support network during the early years of child rearing.

Elizabeth Collins Cook is a board-certified music therapist living and working in the Jenkintown area. She is a mother of four and the owner of The Gathering Drum, which specializes in music therapy during pregnancy and for postnatal care, infant development and children with autism. For more information, visit GatheringDrum.com, February 2013


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