Singing throughout (and after) pregnancy – Part 1

I have been quiet of late. This is mainly down to having been busy coaching, but this blog post is also inspired by very personal reasons: I am on maternity leave since last week and have roughly three more weeks to go before my due date.

So what better reason to start a blog post that might interest especially the female readers amongst you (but maybe also a few singing teachers, or dads-to-be with singing, pregnant partner), not least to fight the boredom of maternity leave: I admit I am not very good with sitting around and doing comparably little.

Please keep in mind that this is a very personal account: I have worked with pregnant singers before and also have anatomical/physiological knowledge, but I would like to give you a bit of a personal insight. There is a real human being behind this, with real-life-experience beyond what you can find in any book. However, this also means that the things I describe won’t necessarily apply to every pregnant woman…

I consider my pregnancy a fairly easy one so far (and I am, as mentioned, on the home stretch). I had very little problems throughout: No bad morning sickness/nausea, and all other “symptoms” feel fairly easy to deal with (some more, some less, but I find neither of them so bad that I can’t cope). Nevertheless, if you use your body as a very fine-tuned instrument on a daily basis, even the smallest changes can feel like you are losing control, and indeed as if you cannot sing anymore.

I will go through the different stages of my pregnancy and explain how they affected my voice. I will also try to cover symptoms I haven’t experienced myself, but have observed in other singers I have worked with or know, so I hope to cover all bases. I will describe how I coped, although some things are just what they are, and you can’t really do much about them. And don’t fret: I’ll spare you the glamorous symptoms that have no effects on the voice – you probably don’t really want to know about them 😉

First Trimester: Gosh, I am so tired, and eating is no fun…

I found out I am pregnant last August. Before I had even taken a pregnancy test, I knew it wasn’t just a slightly overdue period. Why? Because I was so tired it was unreal. I am a night-owl by nature, and it is really not like me to fall asleep on the sofa, or to struggle to stay awake beyond 9 or 10 pm…

Tiredness/fatigue: It doesn’t really matter whether you experience this early on or later, the effects on the voice will be the same. A tired body struggles to support the voice properly. My energy levels were woefully low, and every singer knows that this can be a problem. I tried to combat this with keeping active – I could pretty much stick to my normal exercise regimen until I was roughly five months (other women can do this even longer, but I had a few niggles I will tell you about later). Pregnancy is not a time to start a new exercise program, but you can pretty much do everything you already did beforehand if your pregnancy is uncomplicated and low risk, apart from certain sports that are on the “avoid list” (you can find more about them here). Even if you don’t consider yourself very fit, just go out for a walk on a daily basis – it really helps.

Nausea/morning sickness: Nutrition/diet can be a trickier one. Although I didn’t suffer from full-blown morning sickness (I thankfully was not sick once), a permanent slight nausea started to set in roundabout week 7 or 8 and lasted until I was 14 weeks or so. I could handle it, but it wasn’t great. This is so individual that it is hard to give tips, but it goes without saying that a body without fuel cannot do a decent job of singing; it is pretty much a question of energy levels again. On top of that: If you constantly vomit, the stomach acid can really affect your voice. You will know what I am talking about if you ever tried to sing after a severe bout of gastroenteritis. If you struggle severely, please let your doctor/midwife know. You don’t need to suffer, and treatment is available (it is downright dangerous if your sickness is so severe that you become dehydrated).

I found that having a stash of ginger biscuits (any dry biscuits or crackers really) on my bedside table, and eating one or two before I even got out of bed really helped to settle my stomach (who cares about the crumbs?). Even if you don’t feel like it – try to eat before the nausea becomes overwhelming. I instinctively avoided everything that unsettled my stomach, from coffee (and I love coffee, but you are not supposed to have too much caffeine anyway) to fatty foods. Keeping hydrated is really important, too. Find something you can stomach, whether it is water, diluted fruit juice, ginger-based drinks or the odd coke (ideally caffeine-free if you have quite a lot of it) – it really doesn’t matter at this stage. It is totally okay to make a couple of strange choices during this time, as long as you can keep food and drink down. You will be able to get back into a good routine once the nausea has begun to settle. In the meantime, top up any deficit with a good pregnancy vitamin. I just needed carbs, carbs, carbs during my first trimester: Bread, dry biscuits, certain fruit. The diet thankfully got more varied again soon…

Feeling moody, teary or depressed: I didn’t feel depressed, because my husband and I were both over the moon when we found out I was pregnant (however, I am fully aware that depression can even hit if you are looking forward to having a baby). I was very teary though, and the most stupid things could set me off. This didn’t affect my voice directly, but it can generally affect singers in different ways. If you have to sing, but you cannot keep your act together because a song makes you feel overly emotional, it can feel like a bit of a challenge. Not everyone gets the chance to just pick and choose their repertoire (I am mainly talking about professional singers now). If you don’t, try to work through your songs repeatedly until they don’t make you choke up anymore. This is a rule that always applies, but it applies even more when you are pregnant and a walking emotional wreck.

It is really needless to say that if you feel your low moods are out of the ordinary, you need to seek out help. There is really no shame in it. Many women feel low pre- or postpartum, but there is a difference between feeling a bit low or anxious, or pre- or postnatal depression.

Part 2 – Second Trimester: The energy is back, but ouch…

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© Petra Raspel 2015

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