Music Therapy; Depression in Women During Pregnancy

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Pregnancy and Depression

Pregnancy and depression aren’t often thought of as occurring together, but for an estimated 10 to 20% of women, they do. The glow of what is hoped to be a special time in a woman’s life is replaced by sadness.

The most common treatments for depression during pregnancy include individual counseling, group therapy, and anti-depressants. Anti-depressants are somewhat controversial because of some studies showing potential risks for babies of mothers taking them. It comes down to a case-by-case basis and a decision between a woman and her doctor. Because of this, some women are opting for safer, more natural techniques to help them manage depression during pregnancy.

Music Therapy for Depression

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy and its clients as the following: “Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Those who can benefit from music therapy include children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other aging related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labor.”

In The Tao of Music:Sound Psychology by John Ortiz, Ph.D, the author speaks of a systematic way to use music in a therapeutic way to alleviate depression. By making an “entrainment” list of a dozen or so songs, based on the participant’s individual taste in music, he or she is able to move from feeling depressed to feeling neutral or happy. The term “entrainment” in music means merging with the pulse of the music. By first matching the emotional state with the music, then gradually moving the participant in a desired direction away from that mood by playing slightly happier music, then even happier, the mood can be successfully altered.

The Cochrane Library has reviewed five studies using various music therapy techniques to treat depression. Four out of the five studies yielded positive results, reporting a greater reduction in symptoms of depression among those receiving music therapy rather than standard care.

How Can Music Therapy Help Pregnant Women Overcome Depression?

Researchers from the College of Nursing at Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan set out to answer the question of how music therapy can help pregnant women overcome depression. They randomly assigned 116 women to a “music” group and 120 to a control group. After just two weeks the women in the music group showed marked reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. The control group showed a slight reduction in stress, but no change in anxiety and depression. Four pre-recorded 30-minute CDs were used in the study, featuring music which mimicked the human heart beat at 60 to 80 beats per minute.

One of the CDs featured lullabies from Brahms and the song, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, while another featured nature sounds and children’s rhymes and songs. The women were asked to listen for 30 minutes a day and write in a journal what they listened to and were doing at the time. They were tested before on well-established scales for stress, anxiety, and depression and then tested afterwards, showing great improvement in all areas.

Music has also been used in labor and delivery and has been shown to speed up labor and decrease the amount of pain. It has been shown that fetuses at 16 weeks' gestation can respond to outside sound. It would make sense that calming, relaxing music could be beneficial for both mother and baby.