Waking the Neighbors: Screaming Versus Moaning

Take a look at these clips. What do you notice about them?

The women in them are noisy. Some of them scream. Some moan. Some grunt. Some roar. But most of them make noise. And that’s ok. In fact, that’s good, as I discuss in the article Indecent Noise.

But if you’re a first time mom or a mother who has never experienced a natural birth, hearing these noises can be...intimidating. Even if you wrap your head around the idea that birth is usually noisy, you can be left with other questions - most pressingly, what kind of noise is the best to make?

The only way to know is through scientific experimentation, so here’s what we’re going to do. Close the windows. Dim the lights. Make sure the neighbors’ cars are gone. Are you ready?

Find a comfortable position. Tense your body, making sure to clench your jaw, neck, brow and stomach. At the same time, make a high pitched or screaming sound. Pay attention to how your bottom, vagina and perineum feel as you do this.

Now relax, paying particular attention to your jaw, mouth and shoulders. Let out a deep breath as you make a low, guttural sound. Again, notice how your bottom, vagina and perineum feel.

What did you notice?

When you tensed and made a high pitched noise, you should have noticed things feeling like they were being “drawn up” - like you were releasing pressure from your mouth rather than down below. When you released the tension and moaned, however, you should have felt your bottom automatically relaxing and “bulging” downwards.

So what does that mean for your labor? It means that using low pitched, guttural sounds rather than high ones will generally bring you best results. Low toned sounds do this in a variety of ways.

First off, low-pitched vocalization keeps the pressure you’re exerting on your diaphragm while forcing you to be relaxed. These tones enable you to relax your face and jaw (which many laboring women want to clench) and create an “open mouth” by which stress and tension escape. The lower the sound, the more your throat opens, the deeper your breathing and the more your shoulders drop - all very good things in labor. In a term she has coined “The Sphincter Law”, Ina May Gaskin says that the state of the mouth and jaws’ relaxation is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, vagina, and anus to open. This means that the more relaxed you are “up top”, the more relaxed you will be “down there”! Finally, if you’re using low-pitched moans, you’re taking big, deep breaths, which means that you are giving your baby lots of oxygen through each contraction, and that’s always a good thing.

But what about screaming? Lots of birthing women do it (especially in the movies!) - what are its effects?

Usually, screaming or high pitched noises are a sign that a woman is losing control, panicking and fighting the process of labor. It is often be equated with suffering. If the shrieking is an indication of stress, it can prevent progress because your body will produce stress hormones. “Screaming irritates your vocal cords and causes you to release pressure from up above as opposed to directing it below. For example, if you are...pushing but are screaming instead [of grunting], you are releasing your pushing force through your mouth and have less effective pushes.”  And just as when you take deep, relaxed breaths you provide your baby with plenty of oxygen, when you shriek and scream, you take short, gasping breaths and not getting enough oxygen back in. It also means that you are tensing your face, jaw, neck, stomach and, consequently, your uterus.

But let’s be honest, many of us who have birthed before have to admit to having been a “screamer” at one point or another in labor. If you do start screaming, it’s ok. It happens. Sometimes you simply have to scream that baby out while you’re pushing. If your support team interprets your high pitched noises as a sign of distress, they should guide you to a lower pitch. They can tell you to simply open your mouth and take a deep breath, which will relax your jaw and force your tone lower. Sometimes you can’t say to your labor support that you need more help. Screaming can be a way to communicate that and get them on the ball. Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed of making high pitched noises. As I talk about in my article Indecent Noise, women make all sorts of noise during labor and that is perfectly fine.

Copyright, photo courtesy of  www.spotofserendipityphoto.com

Copyright, photo courtesy of  www.spotofserendipityphoto.com

The key to a good labor is relaxation, and for many women that means making noise. As with other things in life, however, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. The type of noise you make can be productive or counter-productive to your relaxation efforts. Practice at home. When you hurt yourself, be sure to moan - not shriek. Try some daily stretches, groaning and sighing as you do so. Have your husband massage you and let him know how good it feels by the low-toned sighs you make. Just remember, screaming is perfectly natural, but if you are going to wake the neighbors, make it a moan.


Special thanks to BUMP, BIRTH & BABY Doula Support and Birth Photography at www.spotofserendipityphoto.com for the amazing picture! Check out her facebook and give her a like to see more breath taking photos!