Research Review: Music Reduces Stress and Anxiety in Pregnant People

new music therapy hero.jpgIntroduction

Pregnancy can be a time of stress and anxiety for many people, even if they are not normally anxious during their day to day life when not pregnant.  Physical changes, emotional changes, family structure and dynamics shift when someone is expecting.  There is a lot to wrap one's head around as the pregnancy progresses.  This new study by a group of researchers in Spain examined what impact music therapy might have on the pregnant person's anxiety, as well as how it might impact the labor and birth and the baby's size.  Music therapy has long been used to support people who are dealing with depression, anxiety and other mental conditions and research dating back to the middle of the last century has shown positive outcomes for people suffering from many different mental challenges.  A pregnant person experiencing stress and anxiety is at higher risk of obstetrical complications including preterm birth and low birth weight babies.  The scientists hypothesized in "State-trait anxiety levels during pregnancy and foetal parameters following intervention with music therapythat music therapy would reduce stress during the pregnancy, during the birth, and for the baby.

How was the research conducted?

409 first time pregnant people were randomized into two groups when they arrived for prenatal care in their third trimester.  Half the group was selected to receive music therapy while they were undergoing a non-stress test (NST) and the other group received the NST without the accompanying music therapy.  The pregnant people's stress levels were assessed using the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) before and after the NST.  This common assessment tool is frequently used to measure trait and state anxiety in clinical settings.  It is often used to diagnose anxiety and is able to distinguish between anxiety and depression in those being screened.

What did the study find?

The people who listened to music therapy during their routine non-stress tests in the third trimester showed significantly lower scores on both the state anxiety portion and the trait anxiety portions on of the inventory.  The people who experienced music therapy in the third trimester also during the birth process and their newborns weighed more than those whose parents' did not have music therapy in the third trimester.

What might be some of the study limitations?

The observers who were administering the NSTs and the STAI were not blinded to which group the participants were assigned to.  The participants also clearly were made aware if they were in the group who received music therapy during their NSTs.  It is not known what either group of study participants did outside of prenatal appointments in terms of stress and anxiety reduction.  The midwives conducting the NSTs were not aware of the participants' anxiety scores results during the testing period. 

What did the researchers conclude?

The researchers involved in this study confirmed their hypothesis that music therapy intervention during pregnancy has the possibility of reducing stress and anxiety during the third trimester.  The researchers also recommend further examination of the effects of music therapy on labor and birth experiences and neonatal weight.

Why is this useful to childbirth educators?

When I teach childbirth classes, I spend valuable class time conducting a guided relaxation exercise (which includes calming and peaceful music) early in the class content.  I also discuss the benefits of relaxation during labor, especially in the early phases.  This research allows me to speak with more confidence that there are stress reduction benefits to the pregnant parent to receive music therapy during the third trimester and that these benefits potentially extend to labor and birth.  Relaxation and music therapy may work more effectively when someone develops "muscle memory" to the activity.  From Penny Simkin, we also know that parents singing to their babies in utero can reduce newborn stress after birth.  I continue to see the value in discussing the benefits of music therapy with the families in my classes and will commit valuable class time to this activity. 

References

Garcia-Gonzalez, J., Ventura-Miranda, M. I., Requena-Mullor, M., Parron-Carreño, T., & Alarcon-Rodriguez, R. (2018). State-trait anxiety levels during pregnancy and foetal parameters following intervention with music therapy. Journal of affective disorders, 232, 17-22.

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