In 2016, I surveyed 444 women on their experiences of singing while pregnant. Though the majority of participants were from the US and Canada, women from around the world participated. The survey asked women about the physical, emotional and social impacts of pregnancy on their singing and allowed participants to write lengthy comments in addition to the regular survey responses. This webpage will share my findings and the words of the 444 women who participated in my survey.
And drum roll please... the most common physical ailments survey respondents experienced while pregnant:
Nausea - 76%
Difficulty Sleeping in third trimester - 69%
Fatigue in first trimester - 68%
Increased sensitivity to scents - 64%
Swelling - 55%
Breathlessness - 53%
Vomiting - 35%
Fun times. BUT even though 78% of women surveyed experienced physical symptoms during their 2nd and 3rd trimesters that impacted their singing, the majority were able to continue performing. Only 21% of women had physical symptoms which restricted performing in the third trimester. It seems that most survey participants were able to keep singing throughout their pregnancies, despite the less than ideal physical symptoms.
Thoughts from the respondents:
"In my first trimester, I was struggling with extreme fatigue and almost constant acid reflux and frequent nausea, which made performing exhausting and unpleasant. My second trimester was the easiest, with increased energy but a rapidly changing ability to engage support muscles. During my third trimester my breath support has really suffered, and standing for long periods of time has become more difficult."
"The changes were both detrimental and beneficial at the same time. Morning sickness and fatigue were a drawback, whereas extra support and noticeable improvement in quality of tone were rewarding."
"The morning sickness and exhaustion of the first trimester made it hard to perform. Also reflux affected the consistency of my tone. In the second trimester things are mostly normal, but my decreased resistance to colds and my reluctance to take meds have affected how often I can perform."
Breathing and Support
As suspected, women who sing during pregnancy are sometimes challenged by the size of the growing fetus when it comes to achieving depth in inhalation. The third trimester was definitely the most difficult time for singers in this respect: 93% of survey participants had difficulty with deep inhalation in their third trimester, 86% of participants had a hard time singing long phrases, and 84% found coloratura passages more difficult than prior to pregnancy.
The second trimester, however, contributed positively to the survey participants' breath support. 82% of participants felt that breath support was easier during this time. Some participants even felt that pregnancy improved their breathing.
"Towards the end [of my pregnancy] there was an increased awareness of breath and abdominal engagement, which made a lot of things seem easier. I still use the feelings / experience / awareness found in that time."
"I learned how to breathe from being pregnant. It changed my concepts of breath control!"
"My biggest challenge was simply breath capacity, but pregnancy also taught me better breath management!"
One participant described her experience this way:
"I found that with the uterus expanding in my front lower abdominals, I could not access a low breath, which actually helped increase my reliance on rib expansion for a good inhalation. Into the second trimester, I am finding it increasingly difficult to access my epigastric abdominals to "pulse" for tricky notes. As a result, I need to support more steadily through maintaining a sense of appoggio through the back and sides of my ribcage - all the better for sustained, legato singing, of course! Having a baby bump highlighted my dependence on my lower abdominals to support high notes, and actually helped me learn to rely more on actual breath support using a steady supply of air."
By the third trimester, only 44% of women felt that they experienced ease in breath support, suggesting that the growth the baby was helpful only to a point. Each woman's experience is unique given the variables in torso length, fetus size, and singing technique. However, most women felt the third trimester was the most challenging. One woman wrote, "[I] never felt like I could get a good breath, even when not singing. [I] felt like I was drowning for the last three months of each pregnancy."
For most participants, pregnancy brought with it a combination of vocal challenges and discovery. One survey respondent's comment summed up the balance:
"First trimester, I was exhausted. I never got morning sickness, but my fatigue was severe. Second trimester, I felt unstoppable. If anything, pregnancy gave me energy, strength, and command of my instrument in ways I'd not achieved. Everything just flowed--breath, musculature, and tone aligned seamlessly. Third trimester, there was no room for my lungs anymore, so my capacity for technical execution diminished. I had to breath more frequently and the results were not my prettiest, but I never had to give up on performing."
In the third trimester, 39% of women surveyed felt that the physical symptoms they experienced made singing challenging, while 38% of women felt that the changes brought on by pregnancy were beneficial to them. Despite the difficulties, the women I surveyed continued with determination to perform during pregnancy. Check back soon for more stories and data! There is so much more to share about pregnancy, hormones and vocal changes, and flexibility in technique.