Pregnancy, birth and the postpartum constitute a profound rite of passage. Expectant families are often guided to seek holistic approaches to enhance their birth experience. One such approach, which is gaining recognition, is the ancient practice of drumming. Rhythm is innate, and every culture around the world has (or has had) drumming traditions.
Beyond its musical and cultural significance, drumming offers a unique potential to support and empower and heal during pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. In this post, I explain some of the ways in which drumming can positively influence the birth process.
Creating Sacred Space
Drumming can be part of bringing more sacredness to the pregnancy and birth journey. Pregnancy and birth are sacred processes which deserve reverence and a sense of ritual. In today’s modern healthcare system, where many births take place in hospital settings, it is essential to find ways to re-infuse the birthing process with a sense of sacredness. Drumming is a powerful way to create a sacred atmosphere, adding a ritualistic element that can positively impact the birth experience.
“At home I felt in my own space, but in the hospital I felt at the mercy of the system, with a lot of vulnerability. The drumming stirred up my sense of empowerment and of standing up for myself” Leigh
Drumming taps into the innate rhythms within us, synchronising the body, mind, and spirit. When expectant parents listen or engage in drumming, it helps them connect with their own internal rhythm and intuitive knowledge, promoting a sense of calm, focus, and empowerment. By embracing these qualities, individuals can navigate the various stages of the pregnancy and birth journey with greater ease and confidence. During labour, drumming can also support the mother into entering an altered state of consciousness that facilitates the birth process.
In the book “When the drummers were women” Layne Redmond explains:
“Priestesses of the Goddess were skilled technicians in its (the frame drum) uses. They knew which rhythms quickened the life in freshly planted seeds; which facilitated childbirth; and which induced the ecstatic trance of spiritual transcendence. Guided by drumbeats, these sacred drummers could alter their consciousness at will, travelling through the three worlds of the Goddess: the heavens, the earth and the underworld”
“I had some gentle drumming at beginning of pregnancy. I found it very calming and healing. The effect lasted a couple of weeks.” Leigh
“The main thing I remember was my consciousness ascending with the drumbeat and connecting with my baby’s consciousness and bringing him into this reality before I did it physically.” Ailsa
Relaxation and Alleviating Anxiety
The repetitive beats of a drum have a soothing effect on the nervous system, inducing a trance-like state of deep relaxation. Drumming can help reduce stress, and ease the anxiety commonly experienced during pregnancy and birth. This relaxation response not only promotes a more peaceful birth environment but also allows the mother to surrender to the flow of the process. Heartbeat-like drumming reminds us of our time in the womb, and promotes a sense of safety.
“I wanted a doula who could drum to help me remain calm (I had massive anxiety going into my second birth, for lots of reasons). “ Ailsa
Increasing Endorphin Release
Drumming stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving and mood-enhancing hormones. During labour, the intensity of contractions can be accompanied by discomfort and pain. Drumming can help activate the body’s own pain management system, creating a more positive birth experience.
“During my birth, the drumming felt a bit like when you are jogging and you have power music on, it gave me a power boost. It felt like it was saying “open up, relax, trust your body, have faith in the journey”. It made me feel more confident in my abilities.” Leigh
Facilitating a Sense of Community and Support
Drumming can be a communal activity, bringing together partners, doulas, midwives, and other birth supporters. Creating a drumming circle during pregnancy or birth fosters a sense of community and support, allowing individuals to feel held and encouraged throughout the birthing journey.
I came to the drum circle on my due date, to ground myself, to feel the vibrations from the drums, and because I felt that it would call my baby into going into our world, to feel welcomed. Kamila
Connecting with Spirituality
Throughout history, drumming has been used as a spiritual practice, connecting individuals to their ancestral roots and the wisdom of past generations. By incorporating drumming into the birth process, expectant parents can tap into this ancient wisdom, accessing a deep sense of spirituality and connection. Drumming can serve as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual realms and can also help parents connect more easily with their unborn baby. Drumming helps create a sense of sacredness and people help turn inwards.
“I wanted a doula who could drum for me during birth for many reasons, to mark a huge initiation, welcome my baby into the world to the sound of the universe’s heartbeat, to have something of me present in a medical situation, a reminder of the vast context of the process I was going through” Ailsa
Nurturing the postpartum transition:
Drumming continues to be a valuable practice beyond the birth itself, offering support and nurturing during the postpartum period. The beats of the drum can provide a soothing and grounding presence, helping new parents navigate the emotional and physical changes that accompany the postpartum transition. Drumming can serve as a form of self-care, allowing individuals to release tension, process emotions, and find inner peace during this transformative phase.
“A week after giving birth, during the closing the bones ceremony, the drumming helped me release something and really opened up the gates to my connection as a mother. The realisation that I’d arrived as a mother really landed. It was beautiful, I cried tears of joy.” Leigh
Drumming offers a unique and multifaceted approach to supporting the birthing process. By listening or practising drumming, expectant parents can tap into their inner strength, find deep relaxation, alleviate anxiety, enhance endorphin release, foster a sense of community, and connect with their baby and spiritual dimensions.
Incorporating drumming into the birth journey holds potential for supporting transformative and empowering experiences.
If you have drummed during the pregnancy, birth or postpartum journey, or have had drumming during these times, please comment below, I’d love to hear your stories.
I am in the process of collating a lot of drumming research, experience and stories related to the birthing process, as I have been asked to write an article about drumming for pregnancy and birth for the International Journal of Birth and Parent Education. and I am also teaching a course called drumming for birth. I will be giving a talk about the science of shamanic drumming at the convention of women’s drummers in Colchester in November. If you have stories to share, I’d love to hear them. I run monthly drum circles near Cambridge which everyone is welcome to attend. No experience necessary.