“Why can’t we play our own music during labor?” It's a question I get a lot. It's a reasonable question. You have the music you like and you know how to press 'play' on your music device. You probably have experience using music to help you get through tasks like the dishes or a hard workout. Labor is compared to a marathon, right? Obviously, you can use your own music in labor and many people do, but there is much more to using music effectively for labor than pressing 'play.' First, let me back up...
Many people haven’t even heard of music therapy. Or if they have, they can’t really visualize what a music therapist does all day the way they can visualize what a teacher or an accountant does all day. They ask me what my degree is in (music therapy) and where I got it (Illinois State University.) Then they ask what exactly I do. To say I use music to address non-musical goals is a great general answer, but it still takes some examples for people to be able to get it. So if I were to compare myself to a music teacher I'd note (pun intended) that a music teacher’s goal is to teach you to read musical notes and rhythms and to be able to apply that reading to an instrument. There are a ton of skills developed (both musical and non-musical) within a music lesson, but the teacher is focused on the MUSICAL skills. When a music therapist works with a client, the focus is on NON-MUSICAL goals. So I might use music to teach a skill such as addition or to help a student transition between settings. I might teach lessons on an instrument, but usually because that student needs a leisure skill or an emotional outlet. I have the training to identify goals that are appropriate for music as a therapeutic tool and to design activities that address those goals.
Music therapy in pregnancy, labor, and delivery is highly specialized-like a speciality within a specialty. In fact, even though I had been a music therapist for many years when I had my first son, I did not use music effectively during my first labor. I wasn't familiar with how the brain activity of women in labor is different than daily life and how it changes in the different stages of labor. I didn't have appropriate types of music and didn't know what to avoid and what to look for in my selections (in fact, I think some of my selections at the time actually hindered my progress and comfort.) I didn't know how to make a cohesive playlist or how to organize it. And I didn't have enough music for the long labor I ended up having. Two years later, I went through the training for Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth and learned more than I can put into words. (Same with the doula training!) And through the Sound Birthing Music, TM program, I gained access to a wealth of playlists that have been used effectively with other laboring mothers.
Music therapy in labor (as in all music therapy settings) is always individualized. There are guidelines to what types of music you'll probably use in the different stages, but couples choose their preferred playlists at their prenatal appointments. The couple’s favorite music can be incorporated into the playlist options. During the birth, the music therapist responds to the dynamics of a couple’s individual labor as it progresses. The music therapist uses the music to facilitate movement or to help you rest and relax; to support your emotional state or to help you let go of whatever is holding back. You (and your partner) are free to experience this huge event. You are free to focus on the birth of your child. And music therapy doesn't change or limit your options. It is still effective if you choose to have pain meds or if a c-section is necessary. You'll still work hard during your labor, but a trained music therapist can add a very powerful support to your birth experience.