Most birthing moms use some kind of noise -- or lots of noises -- as a way to cope with contractions during labor and birth. It may seem odd or even a little concerning that you could make loud noises in labor, in front of your partner and "strangers" like nursing staff and your care provider. But allowing yourself to "let go" and make the noise your body naturally wants to make during labor is actually helpul in relieving pain and progressing your labor. Have you ever participated in a rigorous sport or physical activity? Did you make any noise? Many athletes regularly make noise -- if even a little -- during their activity. Labor and birth is one of the most intensely physical activities around! It's also important to know that nurses, midwives, OBs, and doulas all have heard and are comfortable with the sounds of a laboring woman. They won't think twice about it!
When in doubt, making noise in labor is much more helpful than holding your breath, clenching your jaw, or holding tension in your body. The following describes some of the most common noises a laboring or birthing person might make.
Moaning - From short and low to long and loud, moaning during labor is one of the most common sounds a laboring woman will make. It is very normal for laboring sounds, like moaning, to sound a lot like the sounds you hear or make during sex. Consider it this way -- the same sounds you made when baby is made are the same ones you need to make to help baby out! Moaning is most helpful when it is done in lower, deeper tones as opposed to high pitched tones, as it will help keep the laboring partner's jaw loose and relaxed which correlates directly to a loose and relaxed perineum.
Loud, long breaths and panting - Breathing, especially patterned (repeated) breathing, also is very common and helpful in labor. Earlier in labor, a woman may use long, deep breaths, while later in labor, it's more common to hear short, panty breaths. There's no right or wrong way to breathe as long as she is remembering to breathe! Holding the breath is associated with more tension in the body and increases the sensation of pain.
Wincing - This sound, while part of the range of normal, can indicate that the laboring person is not coping well or holding tension somewhere in the body. As a partner or labor support person, consider trying to redirect the sounds to a lower toned moaning, if possible. Also, try and find out where there is pain. Wincing and high pitched sounds can indicate a variation of labor like back labor, which will require additional coping, comfort measures, and position changes to provide relief.
Grunting - Most often heard near the end of labor, this sound usually indicates that mom is feeling pressure with baby low on perineum -- the grunting likely means she's giving little pushes with her contractions. In most cases, little pushes are perfectly fine, even if she isn't fully dilated or has not yet been checked to confirm dilation. If mom begins grunting, it may be helpful to let the care provider know about this new change, as it's likely that baby is closer to birth!
Growling/roaring - Many women later report that labor and birth is a very primal or animal-like experience. As such, it's no wonder that some women sound much like a growling bear or roaring lion in labor! These sounds are most often heard during pushing, when a woman must summon up all of her strength to push out baby.
Word repeated/sung - People in labor come up with many ways to cope, including creating a ritual, like repeating a word or phrase during contractions. It might be something like "I can, I can" or "one more, one more" repeated over and over.
Crying - Labor is emotional, too! It's not unusual for a laboring mom to cry at different points of her labor. It could be from pain, frustration, lack of sleep, or from fear that labor is taking too long. She could also be experiencing a trigger of something emotional from the past. Sometimes, a good cry in labor is helpful and even therapeutic. But if the crying is attached to a larger fear and is not addressed, it can cause increased tension and even a stall in labor. It's important to seek support from a partner, doula, or someone on the labor support team.
Screaming - While the media would have you believe that all birthing women scream, in reality, it's not the most common noise. It can be, however, a sign that the laboring person has hit the panic button and is not coping well with contractions or extremely afraid of something that's happening or about to happen (inserting an IV, a cervical check, baby crowning). It helps to lock eyes with someone on the support team and be actively guided back to more regulated breathing.
Were you surprised by the noises you heard or made in labor and birth? Tell us more in the comments!