“Keep your voice low.”
When I am at a birth, I often find myself telling my clients to “keep your voice low,” and I’m always worried that a nurse might walk in and misunderstand. This is the simplest and quickest way to encourage an effective coping skill, but if hospital staff were to randomly overhear me, it would be easy for this to be interpreted as an attempt at “shushing” a mother. I watched someone at a hospital do that once, tapping a mother on the collarbone and telling her outright to be quiet and stop making so much noise, and it honestly kind of ticked me off. That’s not how I plan to have love and respect as I support my clients.
One thing that I fully understand is how important it can be to make some noise during labor. And I’ve heard a wide variety–deep growls during a contraction, humming sounds, even a kind of musical singing as mothers work to bring their babies down. It is such a natural response to the intensity of contractions, and I’ve always encouraged women to make any sound that feels right. Besides that feeling of rightness, it can also be a wonderful indicator of how labor is progressing to everyone in the room. In any other situation–say, if you stubbed your toe or smashed your thumb with a hammer–it would be perfectly acceptable to make a little noise to express how you feel, and a woman in labor should be the most free to have any self-expression that she finds helpful.
And yet, while that self-expression is so important, there are some ways to adapt it to make it even more beneficial. Often, this kind of energy and interaction can be channeled and used to help make labor a little easier. I usually discuss this in prenatals, so my clients understand the value of their voice as a coping technique, and some of the key phrases I use–which often includes the suggestion to “keep your voice low.” It can absolutely be one of the tools a mother can use in helping her labor progress smoothly.
Keeping that kind of deep, low sound–however LOUD a mother needs to be–has several benefits:
- Deep humming or growling is the second most natural coping technique for labor. The first, of course, is breathing, and using our voices is nearly as easy to focus on. It doesn’t require any practice or equipment, just the freedom to make some noise
- It’s a beautiful distraction for a laboring momma–just as consciously breathing in a deep and relaxed manner can tell the brain what to focus on, humming or moaning or growling can be an activity to purposefully focus on.
- A loose jaw, encouraged by those good low sounds, helps loosen up other parts, too. If there is tension in the jaw, it actually communicates tension to the pelvic area. When a Momma is keeping her throat and jaw loose with deeper noises, she is helping keep her cervix and pelvic floor soft and loose, too. It sounds crazy, but it totally works!
Knowing all of this, I try to encourage every mother I support to feel free to make some noise and let the rest of us know that way how she’s doing. She’ll hear me say “that’s a good, low noise,” or even just humming along with her. I’ve attended births where a mother was surrounded by her midwife, midwife’s assistants, and myself, and each and every woman listened to the mother’s own “birthing sound,” and matched it. The whole group supported the mother by echoing her own sound, strengthening her and making sure she knew that what she was naturally doing was accepted and right. It’s a beautiful moment when that happens and a mother feels empowered by the group support!
I’ve also learned that just the pitch of a mother’s voice is a fantastic way for her to communicate how well she’s working with her contractions, and whether or not she needs increased support. Very often, when a mother’s voice goes up in pitch, she is letting us know that she’s having a more difficult time concentrating. And for most women, the reverse can be true; a deep, low hum or growl often shows that a mother is putting all her energies into staying calm and relaxed.
It is when a mother starts to lose her focus and her voice spirals up, and her jaw is showing tension, that I pull out my phrase of “keep your voice low.” By this time, I’ve been telling her that she has a “good, low sound,” or is “doing a great job growling at it,” that she understands I’m not suggesting she be QUIET, but just keeping her voice deep and low, giving her something easy to focus on and a simple way to be even more proactive in working with her body. And typically, the random nurse gets it.