Singing and Pregnancy
Long before I ever taught voice, when I was an active Equity performer in musical theatre, a conversation with a fellow performer made me wonder what it would be like to sing while pregnant. My friend Mary and I were discussing a local voice teacher, and she ended the conversation by saying: "But when I tried lessons from him, he took one look at me and said, 'Oh, you can't be singing now. You're pregnant!'" Mary was completely turned off; she felt his comment was totally ridiculous.
Never having been pregnant myself, I took her word on the absurdity of the teacher's comment and never gave pregnancy and singing much more thought. That is, until, I became pregnant myself.
I was in the middle of performing a leading role in a musical when my husband and I discovered I was pregnant. Almost immediately, I began to notice that singing was more difficult than it used to be. Only in my second month, I was having trouble with breath control. To my surprise, I was easily winded and couldn't hold phrases for as long as I could only a few weeks earlier. I later discovered the reason for my breathlessness: hormones.
During pregnancy (particularly in the first and second trimesters), hormones swell the capillaries of the body, relaxing the muscles of the lungs and bronchial tube, among other things. This may make pregnant women feel like they don't have enough air to sing long phrases. If this happens to you while you're pregnant, you have little choice but accept it as a momentary fact of life, and take more frequent breaths.
In the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, another factor may make breathing and support more difficult: a displaced diaphragm.
Usually beginning in the second trimester and becoming more prominent in the third, the uterus pushes up against your other organs, displacing them. The diaphragm of pregnant women often ends up higher than usual, and may make them feel as if its almost impossible to use the organ effectively. It will take some getting used to, but it is possible to sing well with your diaphragm in this position. In fact, some singers claim it makes singing easier.
Not every pregnant woman experiences vocal changes, but many do. Hormones surge through pregnant women's bodies, and it's not uncommon for women to find that their top range disappears, while they gain several lower pitches. In addition, hormones may make the voice sound less "brilliant," or may make it more difficult for the singer to "control" her sound. Popping or cracking may occur. Such hormonal issues may continue until breast feeding ceases.
On the other hand, some women report that pregnancy hormones have nothing but a positive effect on their voice, that they gain range, and that their voice sounds better than ever before.
Fatigue and other Complaints
Other pregnancy related issues may affect singing, too. Especially in the first trimester, low blood pressure may cause dizziness or lightheadedness, and hormones may cause morning sickness (nausea that may hit at any time of the day or night) and might make performing difficult. I recall many nights where it took all I had to not faint while on stage...and then I had to run into the wings as quickly as possible, otherwise (I was sure), I would vomit into the pit. It definitely took most of the joy out of performing. But not every pregnant woman has these problems.
It's also quite common for pregnant women to experience sinus congestion. If you've never suffered from this before, you might be surprised how much it can affect your singing. To battle the effects, you can try an over the counter sinus medication (but only one that your doctor tells you is safe!), or try the tricks listed here.
Edema is another common problem in pregnancy, and doctors tell me that the condition swells the vocal folds, as well as the ankles and feet. Women who suffer from edema should strictly avoid salt in their diet.
Additional Tips for Singing While Pregnant
Many women sing right up until the delivery of their child. In fact, I encourage this, since nine months without singing will put your voice in poor shape when you try to sing after the baby is born.
If you find that certain songs are much more difficult to sing while you're pregnant, avoid them. You may certainly attempt them in the privacy of your practice room, but you won't want to include them in public performances.
You may also need to focus more on support. Ensure that your diaphragm is working as it should, and that you aren't allowing excess tension to creep into your upper body (especially your throat and mouth).
Many singers report that their voice is "better than ever" after their baby is born. If your voice has felt wonderful throughout your pregnancy, it will probably feel as good or better after delivery. On the other hand, if you've had vocal problems during pregnancy, they will slowly diminish once breast feeding has ceased, and you may feel that, once recovered, your voice is soaring.
In either case, though, it usually takes time to redevelop the muscles that aid good support. Most women develop a gap (caused by their growing belly) in their abdominal muscles during pregnancy. It may take up to eight weeks for your abdomen to recover, once your child is born. If you try to use your abdominal muscles before the gap closes, you risk injury.
To see if your muscles are ready, lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Place the fingers of your left hand (palm facing you) just above your belly button. Inhale. Now exhale as you lift your head and shoulders off the floor; while doing this, move your right hand up your thigh, toward your knee. If a gap is present, you should be able to feel it. If the gap is only one or two fingers wide, you may begin to gently exercise your abdominal muscles; talk to your doctor first.
To help make post-delivery recovery go
faster, I also encourage you to try special pregnancy abdominal exercises,
All of this said, no singer should enter into pregnancy believing she will develop all the difficulties mentioned here. That would be quite unlikely, so don't stop singing just because you're pregnant.
In fact, singing is good for pregnant women. Science tells us that singing releases endorphins that helps relieve stress and lift the mood (always good thing, especially if you're one of those pregnant women who suffer from mood swings). Singing is also good for your circulatory system, and several studies show that singing is linked to a lower heart rate and decreased blood pressure. Singing may even boost your immune system.
Studies also show that music is an important part of your baby's development in the womb. (See "The Importance of Prenatal Sound and Music" for more information.) In addition, hearing is a sense that your baby will develop in the first trimester. His or her vocal cords will also develop by the thirteenth week. Who knows? Your baby may sing back to you, even though you can't hear him or her.
So, I think my friend Mary was right to be appalled by the attitude that pregnant women shouldn't sing. While pregnancy is probably not a good time to begin learning about vocal technique (diaphragm support, and perhaps other things, will feel different when you're not pregnant), it is an excellent time to continue singing...for both your own sake, and your baby's.