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A good labor playlist isn’t just about the pre-baby turn up, a music therapist explains.

Creating a labor playlist has become a part of having a birth plan, up there with getting your hospital bag together or prepping your living room for a home birth.

But a birthing playlist is about more than your favorite turn up tunes or sentimental songs, says Atlanta-based music therapist Kenya Engram. 

“Think about trying to get through a marathon,” Kenya explains. “It’s really important to have poppin’ music that can help you focus more on the music rather than ‘Oh my God, my muscles are shredding.’

“Music is one of the only things that can be processed by both sides of your brain,” she continues. “When you go into labor, the neocortex—the part of your brain that processes language and reasoning and is in charge of executive functioning—pretty much shuts down. You really don’t want people talking to you. Trying to follow elaborate commands … doesn’t work because you’re more in the primal brain, which is focused on pain perception and emotions. You’re just pure instincts and survival.”

Your labor playlist can help you ride the waves of labor and delivery. Your heart and respiratory rates react to a song’s tempo. Instead of having someone tell you to “focus on your breathing,” hearing slower tempo music “that supports long, deep, drawn-in breaths” can help you breathe through your contractions, Kenya explains.

Another benefit of planning a delivery playlist is that listening to happy, upbeat music can help produce more oxytocin. Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is responsible for starting contractions—and strengthening them.

So now that we know just how helpful a good labor playlist can be, let’s dig a little bit more into how to create the best labor and delivery playlist for you.

Photo courtesy of Tayo Mbande. You can read about her empowered induction here.

1. Pick birth playlist songs to support the different stages of labor.

You’ll need different types of music for early-stage labor, active labor, and the surreal moment when you finally meet your baby. (“Group all the music you want to use for your birth” into separate playlists for each stage, Kenya suggests.) 

“People are so different,” Kenya says. “For me, I was all about girl power when I started having contractions [that] weren’t very strong yet. I was listening to [Destiny Child’s] ‘Survivor’ and Indie.Arie.”

For early-stage labor, Kenya suggests playing upbeat and happy songs, and songs that can help you “focus on resting and preserving energy so you can make it through a particularly long process.”

This part of the playlist can also support you if your birth plan isn’t going the way you want, she adds. 

“Maybe you decided to do a medicine-free birth, but you need to do an immediate cesarean,” Kenya says. “Putting on music that has a positive focus or that really resonates with the client helps shift the focus from what’s [negative] to happier times.”

Learning that your birth plan has changed is often very distressing. Music can help you make peace with having a cesarean and connect with the positives: You and your baby will be safe, you’ll get to see your baby sooner. 

“It takes the negativity away from the thought that your body didn’t ‘work the way it was supposed to’ or that you failed,” Kenya says.

During active labor, use music that can help you focus on your contractions. Instrumental music—like jazz or instrumental versions of your favorite songs—can help get you in the zone. Remember, your neocortex may be tapped out; hearing a lot of different voices can be stressful.

And when your baby finally arrives, queue up something that supports that precious moment and mother-child bond. 

“Classic songs that come to mind would be Lauryn Hill’s ‘Zion’ [and] Stevie Wonder’s ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’” Kenya says. 

You can even listen to “your favorite lullabies or songs that you may remember being sung to you,” she says. (When Kenya delivered her eldest son, the new family listened to a few songs by Bobby McFerrin.)

Photo credit: Ocean Ng for Unsplash

2. Make sure your labor playlists are long and flow well.

Contrary to what we see on TV, giving birth can take hours (and sometimes even days). With that in mind, make sure your playlists are packed with songs. According to Kenya, a good starting point is having at least 60 minutes worth of continuous music.

When creating a labor playlist, think of yourself as a DJ. You’re creating a consistent mood. Our bodies are so responsive to music. Have you ever had a bad playlist kill your vibe? The same thing can happen with labor.

“It’s really easy for birth to get interrupted, even by really small things [like] having long pauses in between songs,” Kenya explains. “Making sure that it has a really nice flow is [also] important.”

Photo courtesy of Tayo Mbande

3. Consider where and how you’ll be delivering when creating your labor playlist.

The amount of time it takes to have a baby varies depending on how you’ll be delivering.

“For a mom who was going in for a C-section, I would recommend having a playlist that keeps them relaxed and calm,” says Kenya. (Those calming melodies will support the birthing team, too.)

“[For] a home birth,” she continues. “I would recommend a pretty extensive playlist on the front end of things. Making sure you have enough music to withstand 10 hours of laboring.”

But again: No matter how you bring your baby into the world, make sure “you have music to support that immediate bonding and nurturing at the end,” Kenya says.

Photo by Habib Dadkhah on Unsplash

4. Determine how you’re going to play your labor playlist.

Add a wireless, portable speaker and earbuds to your hospital bag. It’ll help you stay in the “birthing moment.”

“If you’re making a playlist on Spotify or Tidal, I would just suggest moms pay for the version that gives you ad-free music,” Kenya says, laughing. (Or do the ol’ free-trial hack in time for your delivery!)

The music you play will become part of your birth story. Make sure it supports every part of you and your baby’s journey.

Kenya offers Sound Birthing Birth Music Consultation, a service that teaches moms and birthing partners how to use their own—as well as research-backed—music to create playlists that support a calm and safe space for birth preparation and during labor and delivery. mater mea readers will receive a 10% discount when booking the service—just tell her we sent you when you book!

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Tomi Akitunde is the founder of mater mea.

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