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Music Manages Pain in All Birth Experiences


Pain during childbirth is often the top concern of expectant mothers.

It doesn’t matter if you plan to have a drug-free birth, use any and all medication, or are having a cesarean birth, you have likely already thought about how it will feel and how to cope with the pain. We’ve seen the tv shows and movies, maybe even watched a birth video. I don’t know how it was for you, but some of that looked SCARY! How can women DO that?! When looking into your options for managing pain, you may hear many of the same suggestions: epidural, birth tub, visualization, etc.

These are all valid options for managing pain. But in addition to these more common approaches to pain,  many studies have shown music therapy is an incredibly effective way to aid in pain management, and not only for those choosing a medication-free birth. In my own practice I’ve had medical professionals joke that morphine is good, music is good, and together they’re amazing.

Music can work hand-in-hand with any other options you may choose to manage your pain and can elevate your birth experience.

In the 1980s researchers began loooking at music therapy’s application in labor and delivery. In one of the early studies done, it was reported that music therapy intervention was effective in managing discomfort by 63%. Since then, the study of music for pain/discomfort relief or “audio analgesia” in music therapy has continued to grow. And while we see studies being done in many different areas, from cancer to dementia and beyond, the findings are easily applicable to labor and birth. Studies in 2010 and 2013 (and many more) have found that during medical procedures, music therapy assisted in not only a reduction in pain but also assistance with decreasing anxiety, regulating and lowering heart rate, and supporting respiratory rate.

Understanding how music can mitigate pain and anxiety is important!

It’s a common understanding that pain, tension and fear operate in a cycle. Pain is a physical feeling, but is also influenced and increased by both tension and fear. When we experience fear our body tenses. When we tense up, pain increases. So when fear and tension creep into labor, the pain of the contractions feel even more intense.

Intentional and clinical use of music has been shown to decrease heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure – in a word, RELAX. Studies also show that music reduces anxiety levels.

A board certified music therapist differs from “music medicine” or a prepackaged playlist of music because we are able to offer hands on physical support, we develop an ongoing therapeutic relationship, and we are trained to read your individual cues to best adjust and apply music therapy techniques to your unique experience.

Music reduces pain by breaking the cycle of fear and tension, no matter the birth experience.

Imagine you’re laboring on a birth ball. Your music therapist may be providing some counter pressure on your low back, sharing encouraging affirmations, and perhaps assisting in cueing deep cleansing breaths. Contractions are frequent and strong. You’re in active labor and your music therapist turns on a playlist that you both collaborated on during prenatal sessions. You’ve been listening to this music and practicing your labor positions for weeks. Now the music cues your breathing. Instead of the panting breaths of panic as you anticipate the pain of the next contraction, the music helps decrease your respiratory rate – you breathe slower, deeper, with the rhythm of the music. Your shoulders relax, your forehead unfurrows, your body opens for your baby to descend.

Or maybe you’re sitting on the edge of the bed as your anesthesiologist prepares to place your epidural. You want the relief and yet are nervous. Nervous of the needle, nervous of the next contraction, trying to figure out how you’ll sit still so they can complete the injection. You listen to the music you and your music therapist have prepared. You go back to the visualization you did in your prenatal session, thinking of affirmations you’ve memorized, the safe space you see in your mind’s eye. You relax and exhale the anxiety as your anesthesiologist places your epidural. The pain is still there, but your focus is on the music, not the pain, and the needle is out before you realize it.

Or maybe you’re having a scheduled cesarean birth. Your birth experience with your first born revealed that you have a heart anomaly that’s left you scared and hoping for a better experience with this birth. Sessions with your music therapist has helped you heal from your past experience and prepare for your second birth. She offers you nonjudgmental support for your planned cesarean birth. You work together on planning music for your baby’s birth from above that will mask the sounds of the operating room, help you keep a positive focus, and most importantly help your body maintain a steady heart rate. You go into this birth experience, supported, confident and empowered. You smile, relieved, as you hear the song you picked out for your baby to be born to and you hear your precious little one’s first cry.

Nonjudgmental support for the birth experience you choose.

Music is a powerful addition to many life experiences. Many expectant mothers will make playlists to take with them into labor. But a board certified music therapist is uniquely qualified to tailor your favorite music to your needs, know when to adjust the music to your stage of labor, and how to best use music to support you.

The Parent Coop provides board certified music therapists who have completed additional training in music therapy assisted child birth. For more information on this program of study please visit

Contact a Parent Coop doula about supporting your birth

DiCamillo, M. (1999). A bio­psycho­social model of music therapy assisted childbirth: an integrative approach to working with families. Doctoral Dissertation, Pepperdine University
American Music Therapy Association. Music Therapy with Specific Populations: Fact Sheets, Resources & Bibliographies. Accessed January 3, 2017.
Hanser SB, Larson SC, O’Connell AS. The Effect of Music on Relaxation of Expectant Mothers During Labor. J Music Ther. 1983;22(2):50-58.
Hanser SB, Mandel SE. Manage Your Stress and Pain Through Music. Boston, MA: Berklee Press; 2010.
Zengin, Suat, et al. “Effects of music therapy on pain and anxiety in patients undergoing port catheter placement procedure.” Complementary therapies in medicine 21.6 (2013): 689-696.
Mandel, Susan E., PhD, MT-BC, and Suzanne B. Hanser, EdD, MT-BC. “Music Therapy for Pain Management.” Practical Pain Management. Vertical Health LLC, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Jan. 2017.
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Cubs-inspired Names for your World Series Baby

Whether your baby is anticipated to arrive any day now or is a celebration baby due in nine months, it would be hard for a World Series baby to go without a commemorative name. So here’s a list of Chicago Cubbie baby names suggested from mom fans around the Windy City. Would you give one to your little one?



I’ve heard a bunch of people say, “I named my dog that!” But don’t discount the name based on a couple furry friends. I have a friend who named her boy Wrigley and was definitively able to defend her super fan status. No “bandwagoning” here!


The last name of red-hot Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta is a great name for a girl – I have always loved this name. When my daughter was born I was campaigning for “Arietta” (Italian for short aria… or little song) given my musical background but this is a great alternative for a Cubs loving family. Love it!



Not wanting to get so “on the nose” with the name Wrigley? Ok, how about the iconic and gorgeous Ivy? Such an adorable name for a sweet little lady.



I absolutely love classic names … and what’s more classic Cubs than Harry Caray? Hello! It’s just so stinking cute! Love it.

Or maybe …


Speaking of the iconic announcer, his last name is just as good a baby name. Caray? Carrie if you want a more traditional spelling for a little lady … or Cary for a boy and also a throw back to Cary Grant (swoon). Or a throw back to the early 2000s with former All-Star Cubs pitcher Kerry (Wood).

Clark … or Addison


The streets outside of Wrigley Field, Clark is a great classic boy’s name, and Addison could go for a little girl or boy. But also… Hello, Addison Russel – that grand slam in Game 6 Tuesday night rocked the world and will go down in history. If Addison doesn’t do it for you … how about Russell? Super cute and deserving of a come back (pun intended)!

Honorable Mentions

A few off the beaten path options with great connections to Chicago’s Northside team

  • (Aroldis) Chapman
  • (Anthony) Rizzo – I mean, come on. That’s just C-U-T-E cute. 
  • Maddon (sure, you could also go with Joe if you’re more traditional)
  • Ryne (Sandberg) – How cute would it be to have a little “Ryno” running around the house!
  • Jake (Arietta)
  • (Jon) Lester
  • Theo (Epstein)
  • (Mark) Grace
  • Javier (Baez)
  • (David) Ross
  • Kyle (Scwarber)
  • Kris (Bryant)

And if you’re willing to take a risk… how about Goat? Your child will likely NEVER have anyone in their class with the same name… but they may also hate you when they’re older. Maybe just going with Billy?


If you can’t get on board with a Cub-centric first name, there’s always the option of a strong middle name… or even just a simple “W”.

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Walking the Path: Fear and Support



“I’m scared,” she said. Her hand in mine as we walked into school for the first time. “It’s OK to be scared,” I whispered into her ear, “I’m here with you.” It was scary as her mom, watching my baby walk into a class of peers, leaving me for the first time. She now seemed so grown up. Goodness. How did that happen?

* * *

“I’m scared,” she said, leaning over the side of the birth tub, squeezing my hands. I cradled her head and whispered in her ear, “I’m here. Your midwives are here. You spouse is here. You’re in good hands.” She had been laboring beautifully, the textbook example of birth. And yet, this was all so new. Unlike anything she’d ever done before.

* * *

Often the most exciting first steps are also a little scary. But the parent’s job isn’t to remove fear, smoothing the path, removing the bumps and road blocks, but rather walking through the journey holding her hand. I’ve learned in just my few short years of being a parent that as much as I may want to help her, I have to let her make her own journey. And scared as she may be, I have to encourage her to experience her own growth.

I can’t do it for her, but I can cheer her on her way.

Only you can birth your baby. I can’t do it for you, but there is no reason you would have to walk the path alone. Hand in hand, you can give birth to your baby. You can do this, and I am honored to be witness to your journey. It’s natural to be scared. But you don’t have to feel alone.


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Grandparents Day

I recently asked new Grandpa, Scott Anderson of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to share a few thoughts on what advice he may have for his children as they enter the world of parenting. Here are his words to share:


Comes the question: “As a new grandfather, what advice do you have for your sons as they become dads?”


Aside from the wise-ass (“Move back to Chicago so we can see our granddaughter more!”), I start here: “Take inventory of how you were raised, and your relationships with both your mom and me, and chart your course form there.”


And if you need help or advice along the way, just ask.


For the record, no, that does not mean “we were perfect, so just do what we did!” Although in all, I think both sons would, now that they are older and wiser, say we did pretty well. As do we.


I’m a devout believer in “learn by doing” and “learn by example.”

And sometimes it’s really the flaws and mistakes from which you derive the most wisdom.


In all candor, that was what in many ways motivated me as a dad – the flaws of my own father as a father – and a compulsion to not repeat as many as possible.

I will be in some ways ever grateful for those flaws, of which there were more than a few, because I ultimately drew from them the blueprint of how not to do things and how I would approach being a very different father to our sons.


This is not about father-bashing and woe-was-me and there will be none; it was what it was as far as my father is concerned and I’ve been able to make peace with that over time. We all have our demons, missteps and failings. His died with him in 1986 at a ridiculously young age.


For me, the Flaws of the Father were in contrast to the Goodness of the Grandfathers.


If I could summon two people from The Great Beyond that I’d most like to spend time with now as an adult, my two grandfathers – Russell and Columbo — would near the very top of the list.

With their comforting attention, persistent presence and seemingly unconditional love, my grandfathers filled a hole in my heart and psyche that my father really wasn’t able to during my formative years. (Both grandfathers died in my early teens, nine months apart).


It wasn’t until much later in life when when I could emotionally triangulate my grandfathers against my father, and the relationship that we had in those formative years, that I could fully appreciate the foundational importance, impact and gifts of my grandfathers.

No, they were not perfect. And I’m sure the Flaws of Their Fathers weighed on each of my parents, too, and contributed to what would become, good and bad.

They were fine role models in many ways for what a grandfather should be – as well as important traits for fathers. And so they made putting together the Grandpa Playbook I’ve got ready for my tiny granddaughter pretty easy.


One more bit of advice is also tied to on of the grandfathers — my paternal one, Russell.


Let it Be by the Beatles was his favorite song. He’d long had his demons with booze but vanquished them in the end and found something of a Zen in his last years. He learned there was still a light that shined on him. He learned he could, indeed, Let it Be.

So that song has a very special place in my heart and a meaning well beyond the effect it already had on 12-year-old me when I heard it again and again on Boston’s WRKO radio in 1970.

It’s a song of comfort and hope and calm that promises there will be answer when you need one.

As devout fourth-generation Beatles fans, I’m pretty sure Let it Be already has a place in both of my son’s lives.
As for my grandfathers, for whom my heart still aches:

“For though they may be parted
“There is still a chance that they will see

“There will be an answer, let it be”

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Episode 4: The Momtourage

FB - Momtourage

The internet can be a great place for parents to get information about parenting and form communities around caring for their children.

But sometimes that online community can turn ugly. This is the story of one such Facebook group, and the lessons learned.


Subscribe to The Parent Coop on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud or wherever you listen to great audio.

Contribute to future episodes

The Parent Coop audio project is planning to release six new episodes in the first half of 2016. We’ve already lined up some great stories to share, but we need your help. Contact if you have a story that you think could add to one of these themes.

Even if your story is only loosely related to a theme, send it our way. If the story has conflict, great characters and a compelling arc, we’ll consider it.


Fridge Art – Stories about art as a release. The fridge as a value judgment. Expression, development, graffiti – tell us about your art story.

Call-in prompt – What was the first piece of art you were proud of, as a child or as a parent?


Loss – Stories about the loss of parents or children. This is an opportunity to cast away some of the fear that surrounds talking about loss as a parent. Tell us about your loved one, and how they’ve shaped you.

Call-in prompt – Tell us the name of someone you’ve lost as a way of honoring their existence.


Pets – Stories about a peculiar pet or an animal that changed the way you saw the world. Maybe you treated your brother like a pet.

Call-in prompt – What’s the weirdest name you’ve ever given a pet? Where did the name come from?


Sell out – Tell us how you identify yourself, beyond the role of parent. How do you maintain that identity?

Call-in prompt – What odd things did your parents do to make extra money? Or as a child, what was your first paying job?

Check back often for more story ideas and prompts. Or check us out on facebook.