Music reduces depression in pregnancy

  • Deborah Condon

Listening to soothing music can reduce stress, anxiety and depression during pregnancy, the results of a new study indicate.

Researchers randomly assigned 116 pregnant women to a music group and 120 women to a control group. The average age of the participants was 30 and all were between 18 and 34 weeks pregnant.

The demographic profiles of the two groups were very similar when it came to factors such as education, occupation, social class and happiness within marriage. Half of the women were pregnant for the first time and just over 50% of the pregnancies were planned.

For the purpose of the study, four pre-recorded 30-minute music CDs were created. Each featured music that mimicked the human heart rate, with between 60 and 80 beats per minute.

The lullaby CD included songs like Brahms’ Lullaby and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and composers like Beethoven and Debussy were included on the classic CD. The nature sounds included Tropical Mystery and Friendly Natives and the crystals’ CD comprised Chinese children’s rhymes and songs, like Little Honey-Bee and Jasmine.

The women in the music group were given copies of the CDs and asked to listen to them for 30 minutes a day for two weeks. They then completed a diary saying which CD they had listened to and what they were doing at the time. Most of them listened to the music while they were resting, performing chores or at bedtime.

The control group did not listen to the CDs.

The women in both groups were asked to complete three well-established scales, which are used to measure stress, anxiety and depression, before and after the music intervention.

“The music group showed significant reductions in stress, anxiety and depression after just two weeks. In comparison, the control group showed a much smaller reduction in stress, while their anxiety and depression scores showed little or no improvement,” explained Prof Chung-Hey Chen of Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan.

In fact, before they took part in the study, women in the music group scored 17.44 on the Perceived Stress Scale, which ranges from zero to 30. After the intervention, their stress levels had dropped by an average of 2.15, which is statistically significant. Women in the control group reported a much smaller fall of 0.92.

Anxiety meanwhile was measured by the State Scale of the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, which ranges from 20 to 80. It fell by 2.13 from 37.92 in the music group and rose by 0.71 in the control group.

Depression was measured by the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression scale, which ranges from zero to 30. The music group reported an average level of 12.11 before the intervention and a reduction of 1.84 at the end of the two-week period. The score was almost constant in the control group, falling by an insignificant 0.03.

“Pregnancy is a unique and stressful period for many expectant mothers and they suffer anxiety and depression because of the long time period involved. In fact, anxiety and depression during pregnancy is a similar health problem to postnatal depression. Any intervention that reduces these problems is to be welcomed.

“Our study shows that listening to suitable music provides a simple, cost-effective and non-invasive way of reducing stress, anxiety and depression during pregnancy,” Prof Chen said.

The researchers also noted that the women in the music group expressed preferences for the type of music they listened to, with lullabies, nature and crystal sounds proving more popular than classical music.

Details of these findings are published in the UK-based Journal of Clinical Nursing.

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