The study, which appeared in the June 2003 issue of Pain Management Nursing, found that music can reduce the sensation of labor pain and decrease and delay the emotional distress that accompanies it. The study was led by Sasitorn Phumdoung, a recent graduate of Case Western Reserve University's Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing.
Marion Good, associate professor of nursing at the Bolton School, was Phumdoung's dissertation advisor. Good's previous research, in an NIH-funded study had found that this same music reduced pain after surgery.
Phumdoung studied two groups of laboring women, age 20-30, who were all having their first baby. One group chose from among five types of calming music and listened to it for the first three hours in the hospital after active labor began. The comparison group had the standard care during labor. The study started when they were 3-4cm. dilated.
The group receiving music used a tape recorder and earphones to listen to the music, with 10-minute breaks each hour; the control group did not listen to any music. Phumdoung measured the women's reports of labor pain before the study began and hourly for the next three hours. During the three hours and at each hourly measure, the music group had significantly less sensation and distress pain than the control group.
The study took place in two hospitals in Phumdoung's home country of Thailand where she is on the faculty of the College of Nursing at Prince of Songkla University. In those two hospitals, the standard of care was to not give analgesic medication to laboring mothers because of its effect on the infant.
"These findings have significant implications for women preparing to give birth," Good said. "Many women are afraid of the pain associated with childbirth, but are reluctant to take medication because of its possible effects on the baby and progress of labor" Soft music does not have these effects, and thus has the potential to be an effective and widely-used alternative to medication for easing pain during early active labor."
Soft music decreased both sensation and distress of active labor pain in the first three hours and delayed increases in the distress of pain for an hour. For some participants relief was fairly substantial. Phumdoung has found that it can reduce the laboring mother's perception of pain and also her distress. Better pain management may speed recovery from childbirth and improve the mother-infant relationship.
The study was supported by Alpha Mu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau and the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing Alumni Association.