Group Singing – A Harmonious Solution for Postnatal Depression
By Lilli Murdoch
Breathe Arts Health Research
This article discusses postnatal depression (PND) and how a group singing programme, Breathe Melodies for Mums, is helping new mothers to boost their emotional and mental wellbeing and reduce symptoms of PND. It explains how art and creative activities can be beneficial for mental health, and how group singing can help reduce stress and anxiety. The Breathe Melodies for Mums programme provides a safe and supportive environment for new mothers to learn a new skill and use music to express themselves and find their voices.
“Breathe Melodies for Mums has made a world of difference to how I feel now compared to how I felt at the beginning. I enjoy life more and I enjoy being a mum, specifically HER mum. Before I used to see mums on Instagram saying ‘I love being YOUR mum’ I thought it was strange at the time, but now I understand this phrase.” Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
Giving Birth is an Emotional Rollercoaster: Don’t Let PND Take the Wheel
Bringing a new baby into the world is a huge life-changing experience! Feeling overwhelmed, emotional, or anxious during the first few weeks is normal, these types of feelings are often called the “baby blues”. Fortunately, the baby blues usually only last a few weeks, however, if these feelings persist, you may have or be at risk of postnatal depression (PND).
“Asking for help is difficult. I’d brought a new human into the world. It was a huge adjustment that affected my emotional and mental health. When you’re in it, it’s difficult to know whether it’s just the baby blues, or something more, because you’ve got so many balls in the air. I constantly had the nagging feeling that something was wrong. I was wondering, what’s going on? Why am I feeling like this? But I struggled to ask for help.” – Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
Postnatal depression (PND) is a type of depression that can impact women after giving birth. PND is a widespread issue that is often overlooked. With an estimated 1 in 10 women experiencing the condition within the first 12 months of childbirth, many women experience barriers to accessing support, including not associating their symptoms with PND, so cases can go unreported. PND can manifest in a variety of ways. Common symptoms include feelings of sadness, guilt, anxiety, increased irritability, changes in appetite and sleep patterns and difficulty bonding with the baby. It is important to remember that postnatal depression is not anyone’s fault and is not something to be ashamed of. With the right help and support, it can be successfully managed.
Finding Support Amidst Postnatal Depression
Traditionally, Postnatal Depression (PND) has been treated through medication or talking therapies. However, new mothers might find it challenging to access the support they need due to a number of barriers such as fear of being judged, stigma, language and/or cultural barriers and on top of all of that perhaps feeling exhausted and overstretched. Also, many mums may have reservations about taking medication while breastfeeding and uptake of psychological therapies can be quite low. Recent studies have suggested that a more creative approach to aiding new mothers’ mental health, such as involvement in community art initiatives, could be a highly effective form of recovery.
A social enterprise, Breathe Arts Health Research is making waves on the national and international stage for its leading arts and health programmes. One of their many award-winning programmes, Breathe Melodies for Mums, has been running since 2017 and is a pioneering group singing programme for new mothers. It is backed by robust research designed to alleviate symptoms of postnatal depression. Read on to learn more about this programme and hopes for the future.
The Creative Way to Cope: Exploring Mental Health Through Art
Engaging in creative activities can be valuable for maintaining good mental health. Whether it’s making music, dancing, or creating art, the act of creating can provide an outlet for emotions that are difficult to put into words. By engaging in these activities, we can make sense of complex feelings and change the focus to something else.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of art on mental health. Creative pursuits offer a welcome distraction, enabling us to focus on the present moment and gain greater control over our emotions. These activities also provide opportunities to connect with others and prioritise self-care, allowing us to nourish our inner selves.
The sense of achievement that comes from creating something can be a powerful motivator, increasing our self-esteem and providing a sense of purpose. Art can also serve as a means of self-expression, helping us to explore our identities and find meaning in our lives
“I would recommend singing groups to any new mums. People don’t realise how powerful the arts can be for your mental health.” – Breathe Melodies for Mums singing group participant
Harness the Power of Singing to Feel Good
Singing is a natural anti-depressant because it boosts your happy hormones by increasing endorphins (the brain’s feel-good chemical), decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone) and releasing oxytocin, which helps to lessen anxiety and create a feeling of trust. It can also help you to breathe more deeply, similarly to yoga, and this can improve your lung capacity, strengthen your immune system and provide a calming effect due to the increase of oxygen in your bloodstream.
“Singing is like an endorphin hit just like exercise; it helps you with your mental health. I always felt better after Breathe Melodies for Mums no matter how I felt at the start. It broke up the same monotonous daily routine of changing nappies, feeding, and putting my baby to bed.” Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
Soothing Melodies, Strengthened Bonds: Group Singing for New Mums
Breathe Arts Health Research (Breathe), a social enterprise renowned for its award-winning arts and health programmes grounded in research, is currently partnering with King’s College London on a study measuring the impact of group singing on maternal mental health of new mothers, at scale. This research follows the 2016 study by the Royal College of Music and Imperial College which Breathe’s programme, Breathe Melodies for Mums, is based on.
Breathe Melodies for Mums is a pioneering approach to bringing women who are encountering similar difficulties together, through the joyful experience of group singing, providing a powerful way to reduce symptoms of PND, boost confidence, and strengthen the bond between mother and baby.
“Over the weeks I really felt like I got some of me back, that everything was OK and that I wasn’t alone. It was an amazing time for me to spend with my baby, bonding, spending quality time together, and being present in the moment.” – Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
Discovering Strength Through Song: Breathe Melodies for Mums
Breathe Melodies for Mums invites groups of up to 10 – 12 women (and their babies), experiencing symptoms of PND, to come together and share joy through singing! It’s a supportive experience, in which women who’re undergoing some challenges associated with their symptoms leave their problems at the door and come together in uplifting, life-enhancing song.
“When you become a parent, everyone asks about the baby, but what about the mum? The mums get forgotten. With Breathe Melodies for Mums, the babies do benefit but that’s an extra. It’s all about the mums and that’s so important. You need to take time to look after yourself. You need to tap into your wellbeing.” – Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
The babies get a lot out of the sessions, but the focus is firmly on the mums who take part. With experienced singing leaders at the helm, the weekly music sessions provide a safe, caring, and welcoming atmosphere for mothers and their babies. There is no stigma; the women are there just to sing and find themselves through music. Babies can cry, feed, and nap, during the sessions and that’s okay. Breathe Melodies for Mums can help mothers to find their voice and feel supported as they navigate through the challenges of motherhood.
The repertoire of songs comes from all around the world in a variety of languages and often reflects the mother and baby experience, with empowering songs to help women find their voices whilst providing a toolkit of songs for any scenario from feeding and bath time to walks in the park. Multi-part harmonies challenge the group creatively, learning a new skill together and building confidence over the 10-week proramme.
“It felt so good to take five minutes to release the tension in my shoulders and neck, which were sore from breastfeeding and holding a baby all day and night. Then we did some vocal warmups and launched into so many wonderful, easy, beautiful songs from around the world. Over the weeks we must have learned 50 songs! But they were all manageable.” – Breathe Melodies for Mums past participant
Breathe Arts Health Research hopes that through their research partnership with King’s College London, they will be able to establish a strong case for group singing interventions for new mothers to be made available across the country through the National Health Service (NHS). This way, more women like those featured in this article will be able to access the support they need.
If you or you know someone who needs some support, please get in touch. We have in-person Breathe Melodies for Mums 10-week programmes running all year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org / 07858 296855 or head over to our Breathe Melodies for Mums page https://breatheahr.org/melodies-for-mums/
Ns Gale, S Enright, C Reagon, I Lewis, R van Deursen –(2012) A pilot investigation of quality of life and lung function following choral singing in cancer survivors and their carers
Gunter Kreutz 1, Stephan Bongard, Sonja Rohrmann, Volker Hodapp, Dorothee Grebe – (2005) Effects of choir singing or listening on secretory immunoglobulin A, cortisol, and emotional state