Credits: Jenna Bollard

World Music Day: Expert Tells All About Music Therapy During Pregnancy

by | June 21, 2019

There’s a question I have always asked myself: is it possible to control anxiety during pregnancy? As someone who gets anxious at the drop of a hat, the thought of giving birth to a new life has always scared me. Be it the anticipation of pain during childbirth or the fear of complications, I have always wished that there could be a way to deal with it all positively. Somehow reinforce or rewire my brain to not get anxious. And just when I needed it most, I got a chance to chat with Board Certified Music Therapist Jenna Bollard where we talked in depth about using music as a tool to overcome stress and anxiety during pregnancy, music therapy assisted childbirth, and the general healing power of music. And I must say, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

On World Music Day, let us connect with Jenna Bollard who opens up on every aspect of music-assisted therapy.

World Music Day: Can Music Therapy Be Helpful During Pregnancy?
Jenna’s maternity photo by Lauren Smith

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World Music Day: Can Music Therapy Be Helpful During Pregnancy?

In this week’s people of veganism feature, let me introduce you to music therapist, Jenna Bollard, who is also a Certified Child Life Specialist with additional specializations in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth and Neurologic Music Therapy. Currently, Jenna is focusing most of her energy on building the Expressive Arts Therapies program at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. Taking inspiration from the ethical vegan lifestyle she follows, she is combining human healing with the therapeutic presence of animals, and hosts music therapy workshops in animal sanctuaries. Here are the excerpts from the interview.

listening to music when pregnant
music therapy during pregnancy
Credits: LightField Studios/ Shutterstock

The womb song concept sounds very intriguing. Can you shed some light on it?

The womb song is a concept developed by Mary Dicamillo, founder of Sounbirthing Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth training. A womb song is a song that expecting parents co-write with their therapist during their prenatal session. The song is meant to be a message to your unborn child and sung to your baby throughout pregnancy each night during your nightly routine.

The research shows that babies can hear sound in the womb as early as 23 or 24 weeks. When my husband and I wrote our womb song with our Music Therapist, Summer of CradleSong Birthing guided us in a meditation and invited us to imagine holding our baby for the first time and to imagine what we might say to our son upon our first time meeting him. Then my husband and I each independently wrote down those messages and came together to turn them into the lyrics of his womb song.

Here’s the lyrics to the whole womb song:

“Welcome Little Buddy

We’re so glad that you’re here

You are safe

You are loved 

And your family is near

Oh our sweet Mateo

We can’t wait to show you the world

You’re a miracle 

Our new friend

Let our adventures begin”

The womb song by Jenna and her husband

We sang the song to him every night to cue the relaxation response both for myself and my son (when pregnant, you share a nervous system with your baby) and we were able to use this time to connect with him before his arrival. It was incredibly meaningful and emotional and helped to ease some of the fears and discomfort that I was struggling with internally. We have the womb song lyrics hanging in our son’s nursery and continue to sing it to him when we are helping to soothe him or bonding with him.

Jenna and her husband singing the womb song to their newborn baby

We were able to sing Mateo his womb song while I was on the operating table for my cesarean and afterward in the recovery room where my parents were able to join us in serenading Mateo with his special song for a second time as well.

Singing the womb song in the recovery room with grandparents around

As someone, who is particularly anxious about the delivery and the pain associated with it, can music therapy help calm expecting mothers? I think it is the anticipation of pain that makes women all the more nervous. How does this therapy help deal with it?

I could not possibly recommend Music Therapy for prenatal support more. For the entire maternity experience prenatal, delivery and postnatal it is such a valuable and healthy non-pharmacological way to regulate nerves on a physiological level and emotionally process all of the unknowns and anxieties that are common for expecting mothers to experience. You make such a great point about how the anticipation of pain and the uncertainty leading up to delivery can oftentimes manifest more anxiety about the birthing experience.

Credits: Syda Productions/ Shutterstock

There are many appropriate reasons that expecting mothers might be feeling anxious or overwhelmed during their pregnancy and postpartum. Music Therapy helps to provide anxiety management and relaxation support by providing structure and a sense of control/predictability in a situation that may come with many variables outside of their control.

Credits: Jenna Bollard

Music releases Oxytocin and serves as a natural pain reliever and helps to cue bonding and the relaxation response. It also can help us develop strong associations to certain memories and psychological states/emotions so when we are strategic about how we use music in our daily practice certain songs can become strong relaxation cues during labor. When practicing with your childbirth playlists you are aware that you are preparing in this way which brings a certain piece of mind.

However, it’s important to mention that it is not only the music that is working to create a sense of safety and relaxation for the mother, but much of the holding also comes from the therapeutic relationship with the therapist. You have the opportunity to discuss your birth plan and develop some form of structure and control by way of the music selections and practice sessions and you are also able to secure this support system and peaceful stimulus for yourself.

Did you personally undergo music therapy during pregnancy and delivery? What was the experience like? What would be that one tip you would like to give to pregnant women curious about music therapy during pregnancy and delivery?

Yes, I hired a Music Therapist for prenatal and birthing support during my own personal pregnancy journey. It was such an incredible experience being the receiver of Music Therapy during my own pregnancy and delivery. The experience was holding and helped me to feel safe and empowered and helped me to feel confident in my own personal coping skills and inner resources.

Jenna Bollard with her son

Having our Music Therapist, Summer, there was like having an anchor throughout the experience keeping me steady and supported. She provided empathy and encouragement and consistently shaped the environment with appropriate music throughout each stage of labor and throughout each unexpected twist and turn throughout my delivery journey.

Credits: Jenna Bollard

I recommend that any pregnant women or their partners, who might be interested in Music Therapy during pregnancy and delivery, to set up a consultation with a board certified music therapist who has a specialty certification in Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth. You can contact one of the providers listed on the sound birthing website by region for assistance in finding a qualified Music Therapist in your area.

As a music therapist in pediatrics, how do you use music to support development, symptom management, and whole health every day?  How parents can also be turning to music to help promote improved quality of life and development outcomes?

As a Music Therapist, I use evidenced-based interventions that are personalized and tailored to meet the individuals/ the families unique needs and clinical goals. These goals can range from pain management or procedural support to anxiety and nausea management or they might be focused on neuro and physical rehabilitation goals.

Credits: Petrychenko Anton/ Shutterstock

The type of music and type of instruments/interventions used will always depend upon the specific needs of the participant/recipient of Music Therapy. Parents can absolutely integrate the intentional use of music into their daily routines with their little ones as much as possible to promote the development and improve quality of life.

Music can be used during transitions and routines during the day that might otherwise be a bit stressful. When you are aiming for that relaxation response, for example before bedtime or naptime, I recommend using relaxing, predictable and repetitive simple music without lyrics as it can help put the brain into more of a trance-like state rather than be too stimulating.

Can you elaborate more on this aspect?

Of course! Using music as part of the daily routine can help to promote the development of self-regulation early on. Singing with your child and engaging with them in multi-sensory developmentally appropriate ways as they grow is an extremely beneficial way to encourage sensory integration, body awareness and motor development, language development, cognitive development, and emotional processing.

Credits: Goldsithney/ Shutterstock

Especially during the first three years of life, music helps the brain to make very important connections and of course continue to support neurological, physical, cognitive and emotional development after the age of 3 as well.  An example of how you might use music to support a 6-month-old might be singing a song routinely that plays with vowel sounds as your baby is beginning to mimic those sounds and will mirror the shape of your mouth (try the “raindrop song” or “apples and bananas”). You might also help them clap their hands together or help them stomp their feet to the beat for body awareness as they will begin to start clapping on their own at this time (try “if you’re happy and you know it”). As your 6-month-old continues to develop fine gross motor movement you can little shakers/maracas with handles during your sing-a-long time with them to encourage reaching and grasping.

Can you shed light on the music therapy program and research you are conducting at UCLA Mattel on the NICU?

Absolutely! Our program is philanthropically funded and our recent research efforts are made possible by a grant from the Music Man Foundation. We spent about a year studying the effect of Music Therapy on parental stress levels and perceived feelings of helplessness amongst caregivers on the NICU. We also are looking at the use of music to improve non-nutritive sucking strength and endurance (an essential preparatory skill for infant’s feeding success).

Credits: ARTFULLY PHOTOGRAPHER/ Shutterstock

Beginning in the summer of 2019 (thanks to a renewed grant from the Music Man Foundation) we will be conducting additional research on our maternity unit that focuses on the effect of Music Therapy on maternal mental health and caregiver stress management.

Do you foresee a future where music therapy could be instrumental in helping women deal with postpartum depression?

Without a doubt! Music Therapy is already used as postpartum support by many parents and I do feel that as more people hear of Music Therapy and learn of how it can be such a valuable support during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum, they will absolutely consider integrating it into their self-care and support arsenal during this major life event and time of transition.

Similarly, do you think music therapy could be helpful for children who have social anxiety? What future do you see for music therapy in general? Can it develop as a mainstream alternate healing channel?  

Music Therapy can support us all in our quest for balanced health and wellness due to the inherent ‘expression promoting nature‘ of music and its ability to impact us on a neurological and physiological level. With the help of a credentialed Music Therapist, it is possible to encourage rewiring of the brain and to achieve clinical goals such as reduce social anxiety.

Credits: whiteMocca/ Shutterstock

In my humble opinion, the future of Music Therapy is bright. Music Therapy is becoming a part of interdisciplinary teams all over the world across a diverse range of settings (correctional facilities, psychiatric facilities, special education schools, hospice care, hospitals and on military bases to name a few).

I hope to see Music Therapy and other Expressive/Creative Arts Therapies in every institution that may require additional forms of emotional and psychological support.

Want to know more about music therapy during pregnancy? Connect with Jenna through her website.

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