Update on Nonpharmacologic Approaches to Relieve Labor Pain and Prevent Suffering

Penny Simkin, PT; April Bolding, PT


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2004;49(6) 

In This Article

Music and Audioanalgesia

Audioanalgesia is the use of auditory stimulation, such as music, white noise, or environmental sounds to decrease pain perception. Its use is popular for the relief of pain during dental work, after surgery, and for other painful situations. It is also used during labor; in fact, many hospital maternity departments and birth centers provide CD/DVD tape players. Some women prefer to use headphones with a portable player, because the music provides more compelling distraction, and the woman is in constant control of the volume. Before labor, the woman selects her own music (sometimes with the help of a music therapist) or environmental sounds, based on her reactions to them. She may use these to rehearse relaxation or self-hypnosis, which then makes it easier for her to get into a relaxed or hypnotic state in labor. Choosing music that helps her relax, lift her spirits, or greet her baby personalizes the birth event and may give her a greater sense of control.[76]

Effectiveness of Music and Audioanalgesia in Reducing Pain and Suffering During Labor

Most studies of audioanalgesia during labor have reported that it can increase pain tolerance, reinforce or elevate moods, or cue the woman to move or breathe rhythmically, especially if she has conditioned herself to do so before the onset of labor. All the studies, however, have suffered from small sample sizes, inadequate controls, or lack of true differences between control and experimental groups.[77,78] It has not been clearly demonstrated that audioanalgesia has any of the benefits claimed for it.

There are no known drawbacks to using music or sound during labor.

Audioanalgesia is worthy of evaluation with properly controlled trials of adequate size to establish its true benefit or lack thereof. In the meantime, because there are no known adverse effects of audioanalgesia, and it appears to be a popular option for laboring women, its use should be encouraged.


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