Third Trimester: I can’t sleep, I can’t breathe, and could you please make this heartburn go away?
So far, nothing had affected my voice too badly, a few minor complaints aside (less vocal stamina and a slightly lessened ability to “feel” my supporting muscles kicking into gear, mainly due to issues with good postural alignment). That was about to change as soon as I entered the third trimester. I carried comparably high, and I would reckon that women who carry lower will be less affected my some of the issues I describe here, although they certainly won’t be without problems either.
Insomnia: Ah, here we go again – tiredness and fatigue. Meanwhile though, they are not just down to my body adjusting to hormonal changes, but mainly aggravated by the growing size of my bump, which prevents me from getting a good night’s sleep. It is getting more and more difficult to find a sleeping position that I am comfortable in. Sleeping on my tummy (and I am sadly a devoted tummy sleeper) is impossible, sleeping on my back is not recommended since the weight of the baby puts pressure on my inferior vena cava, which restricts blood flow. If I roll onto my back, I will usually wake up because I start to feel uncomfortable or dizzy/weird. So one of the sides it is (the left is favourable, but the right one is okay, too). Alas, my bump is still somewhat in the way, my pelvis and hips begin to hurt if I am lying on one side for too long etc. I found relief by getting a maternity pillow that I can wedge under my bump, hips and between my knees. Just try and see if it works for you. Still – uninterrupted sleep is a thing of the past. Added problem: Baby kicking or punching your bladder. I am lucky that I only need to go to the bathroom once during most nights, but I know of women who need to get up every one to two hours. Once again, not great for anyone, but especially not singers who try to run that well-oiled machine we call body to create a beautiful tone…
Breathing: And finally, we’ve arrived at one of the major problems for singers: Restricted breathing. Once again, possibly worse for women who are carrying high, but I don’t know too many pregnant singers who have no problems whatsoever. The farther your pregnancy progresses, the more the size of your growing uterus will push up against your diaphragm, squashing everything above it (lung capacity is reduced by roughly five percent, which shouldn’t affect us too much, but I have to admit it really doesn’t feel like it). For me, it means being a bit shorter of breath, which sometimes requires added sneaky breaths which I normally wouldn’t need. The breathing gets more shallow over all, and there is really not much you can do about it. Another problem I have experienced are ectopic heartbeats and supra ventricular tachycardia (SVT), but I had both since my teenage years, so this is very specific to me (not the ectopic beats however, they are actually quite common in pregnant women). Again, this is down to the fact that everything gets a bit more crowded when your bump grows, and your heart can get a bit aggravated when you adopt certain body positions (for me, it is bending over and leaning back). It is also down to the fact that we have a lot more blood circulating though our system when pregnant (up to 50% more than normal), and our hearts consequently need to work a lot harder. You will find that this can also affect you whilst singing, especially when your intra-thoracic/intra-abdominal pressure is raised – it can really make your heart go a bit funny, so try to adjust what you are doing.
Heartburn/acid reflux: Now, this one is a real problem for singers. Thankfully, it won’t be permanent, but it can really wreck your voice for the time being. I started to get heartburn from roughly six months onwards. This is both down to the hormone relaxin (your esophageal sphincter sadly relaxes, too), but also to the growing size of your uterus, and literally everything being pushed up. Stomach acid aggravates the vocal cords in a major way, and I really notice this. My voice feels (and sounds) rougher, my upper range isn’t as responsive, and everything feels that bit more laborious. Obviously, cut out any food (or drink) that makes the problem worse, and rather eat smaller portions more frequently than big meals in one sitting. I am still okay with spicy food for some strange reason (many pregnant women aren’t), but anything remotely sweet will immediately set off a major episode, so I need to be careful, even with natural sugars (e.g. fruit). It is totally okay to take over the counter antacids during this time, but if they don’t help, please see your healthcare provider, they can prescribe something stronger.
These are the major niggles that will affect a singer during pregnancy. How much they affect you will be as individual as your pregnancy. Rest assured though: You can still sing, you will just need to make a few adjustments. It cannot be stressed enough that singing is hugely beneficial to most people, and this includes pregnant women. It helps with stress and anxiety, makes you happy, and last but not least: Singing to your (unborn) baby is also supposed to have positive effects on both of you. It helps establishing that special bond, calms and relaxes both of you, helps with language and speech development etc. So whatever you do: Try to keep going!
I actually wrote this post the day before I gave birth two weeks early on April 4th, which somewhat prevented me from publishing it.
So many things which I cannot even begin to describe have changed since my daughter arrived. I promise that I will add a post about singing postpartum, because I most certainly have something to say about it.
© Petra Borzynski 2015