Singing was a welcome distraction for me during the highs and lows of pregnancy, but leading and singing with my choirs did throw out some interesting discoveries. Here are some of the things I learnt from singing through pregnancy!
The first change I noticed, long before any visible physical change or 'bump' appeared, was my breath. Almost immediately, breathing felt different - shallower, more laboured, squeezed. And all this before the better known symptoms of pregnancy kicked in - the shortness of breath, the dizziness and light headedness. Initially, I was thrown. How will I be able to sing if I can't take a good, deep breath? How will I sustain a phrase when my diaphragm feels like it's barely moving to accommodate new air?
The answers lay in yoga and patience. Through learning to expand and breathe deeper into my side ribs and back, I was able to pull air in without the familiar expansion of the belly that easy, long established diaphragmatic breathing had offered. By adjusting this, I was able to relax and enjoy taking in breath with new possibilities.
Every week I felt my balance change and shift. Weight moved and sometimes I felt unstable. Again, after a while, I learnt to take a moment at the start of each singing session to check in with my body that day, make any adjustments and play around with my physical placement until I felt balanced.
Things to aim for are lifted arches, a slight tuck under of the pelvis and lengthening through the spine to the crown of the head. Pregnant ladies often overcompensate for the extra weight on the front by over arching, or pushing back. Aiming for length in the spine helped limit my 'waddle' and any associated back pain. A great tip given to me by masseuse Daisy Vitality was to position a rolled up towel behind my spine while working. Again, this helped keep me from slouching and supported the growing weight my body was accommodating!
Physical warm ups
I wanted to be careful that any physical warm ups I led weren't going to cause any harm to my 'more flexible than usual body' (due to increased levels of relaxin in the pregnant body) or my growing baby. I followed principles of yoga, leaving out twists, inversions and unmonitored deep stretches. Instead, I adapted the warm ups I led to include those that let the breath lead through gentle, opening movements that lend themselves to relaxed body and mind.
The 'even more common than usual' cold
The average pregnancy hosts 3 colds, scientists say. I had four, often lasting up to a month each. There are limited drugs that can be taken and cold symptoms are often much worse when your body is already dealing with fatigue, changing posture and breath. A non-medicated, safe for pregnancy salt water spray helped me reduce the severity and duration of my colds, and steam helped with congestion. Otherwise employ rest and gentle humming over all-out belting, and quit whispering and shouting to limit damage to your voice. Generous use of hand sanitiser is also encouraged, especially on the London Underground network!
Pregnancy can bring with it some less welcome side effects, and one that I felt particularly strongly during the first five months of my pregnancy was morning sickness. Sadly my symptoms of severe nausea and vomiting followed me around 24/7 for the first half of my pregnancy, making concentrating on anything tricky to say the least! However, one activity brought me rare relief - conducting. I discovered that in leading one of our choirs, I was most able to focus on the music and task in hand rather than less pleasant feelings in my body. Singing with others also provided a similar platform; the music allowed me to get lost - if only for a few minutes at a time - which delivered great joy!
My range dropped by three or four tones during pregnancy! I sang along with the tenors. Hormonal changes, colds, swelling, increased bodily fluids, and changes to the breath, physiology and posture all contribute, and changes can be surprising - but are usually totally normal! Go with the flow, and don't do anything that feels uncomfortable. Chances are your voice will return to normal post-birth, but of course consult your doctor if anything feels painful or out of the ordinary!
Running choirs means I'm constantly surrounded by music - live or otherwise! Lots of people asked me if the baby reacted to the music he experienced - and the answer was undoubtedly a yes! He would often have a huge increase in activity during or just after rehearsals, particularly through the more dramatic songs! The biggest trigger song for him? Bohemian Rhapsody, that was performed in 'Black and Teal'. While I'll never know if he loved or hated our interpretation of the famous Queen classic, he certainly wasn't afraid to show his opinion through his feet!
I learnt so much from singing with a baby on board, and loved making discoveries about my own body that have since informed my practice, and will help me to understand other pregnant women who I work and sing with in the future!
Did you experience any other unusual side effects to singing while pregnant? Share them with us below!