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Playing While Pregnant

January 17, 2012 at 7:16 PM

When I found out this last summer that I was pregnant with my first child, I knew that I would have to make adjustments to my everyday life. I wasn't sure exactly what all of those would be since I had never been a mom before. Luckily, there is a lot of information available online and in print for curious new moms like me. I discovered I would have to change what I was eating, start taking a pre-natal vitamins, not ride roller coasters, things like that.

When the fall approached and the music groups that I had been playing in started new rehearsals after the summer break, I found myself asking a new question: how do you handle pregnancy as a musician? I knew I wasn't the first woman to try be a musician and pregnant at the same time. I spent hours online and reading books trying to find any information about playing string instruments while pregnant. All I could find were more first time moms with questions like mine.

What's a girl to do?

Well, I decided to just "go for it." I would play like I usually had each year before and make any adjustments I need to along the way. Now that I am in the last few weeks of pregnancy and having just finished the last concert I would play before my little one appears, I thought I would share some tips for other pregnant musicians that want to know how to make it all work.

1. Know where the bathrooms are. There is nothing like a full bladder to throw off your concentration, timing, intonation, and everything else. Most people that you are playing with will understand if you disappear for a few minutes.

2. Drink lots of water. This might seem counterproductive (especially considering the previous tip) but studies show that when you are well hydrated, the swelling and muscle aches that can hinder a musician from playing their best are lessened.

3. Invest in the appropriate brace. Personally, I spend most of my time playing the cello and violin and I developed pregnancy related carpal tunnel in my left hand. I found that wearing a brace during the day when I wasn't playing or night when I slept prevented or reduced any pain associated with this while playing.

4. Stretch and take breaks. For pregnant gals, it is recommended that you take a break from sitting/standing every 20 minutes. I like to incorporate some yoga as the stretching portion. There are positions for sitting and standing that will give your joints relief. The 20 minute rule works well for practice sessions. It can be difficult to keep this up if you are playing a concert/gig and when the program/set usually doesn't have a break for 30 minutes or more. If you find yourself in this situation, prior preparation is key. Get plenty of sleep the night before and stretch beforehand.

5. It's okay to say no. This is one I struggle with. I used to play music with every one that would let me, but it is very important that you don't try to do it all. The baby takes up a lot energy and during pregnancy, you can't do everything like you used to. Besides, if you are exhausted, you will put yourself at greater risk for injury and you will your baby under stress.

6. Know that every pregnancy is different. You may not experience joint pain or get carpal tunnel but you may get nosebleeds or some other weird pregnancy symptoms that would effect how you play. Just know that there is a way to deal with any symptom out there.

7. Remember that pregnancy doesn't last forever. All the aches and pains associated with pregnancy end after the baby is delivered. For some women, they are back to normal with in a few days, some it takes a few moths. Either way, you will be back in prime playing shape.

If I knew at the beginning of my pregnancy what I know now, there are a few things I would do differently. For instance, I took on way too many gigs this holiday season, but I still survived. Hopefully these tips provide some encouragement to other musicians out there embarking on motherhood.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 17, 2012 at 8:32 PM
Congratulations! Your post reminds me of a good story. We have a friend who spent many years in the US Army Band. There was a point before which the Band did not have a maternity uniform for its members who became pregnant. One woman became pregnant, and after a number of months, she could not manage, using safety pins and other helpful things, to keep wearing her uniform and covering the pregnancy, so she showed up one day for rehearsal wearing maternity clothes. The conductor quickly noticed and did a double take. He then asked, somewhat incredulously, "How did that happen?" Someone in the Band quickly responded, "In the usual way, sir." After that, the Band got a standard maternity uniform for pregnant members.
From Patricia Baser
Posted on January 18, 2012 at 12:53 AM
I played Rite of Spring when I was 34 weeks pregnant (not recommended!).
From Anne Akiko Meyers
Posted on January 18, 2012 at 1:00 PM
I am over 32 weeks pregnant with my second child and just finished a 2 week tour of Japan and performing with the Santa Barbara Symphony this weekend. While it is fatiguing, and the physics of big belly/violin under the chin are stressful on the body, I am so proud of myself for accomplishing this! And the baby is feeling all this music in my belly....not to mention our 18 month old as well! It does take Herculean strength but I think it's worth it.....
From Paul Deck
Posted on January 18, 2012 at 2:06 PM
Congratulations. The most important thing to remember about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting is that all of those are a huge deal BUT zillions of other people have done it before and still had perfectly productive and enjoyable lives. But it's still a big deal especially the pregnancy and childbirth thing. That's just one of many reasons why us dads worship our wives.
From Rachel Davis
Posted on January 18, 2012 at 6:25 PM
Thanks for the encouragement. I have enjoyed having the little one with me while I play. Although, I am beginning to think that she is not a fan of John Corigliano. In this last concert I was in, we played his Elegy and she would always go bonkers. All the other pieces I have played with her, she would move a little, but she would generally be pretty relaxed. Mozart puts her to sleep. I will be using this knowledge to my advantage in a couple of weeks. :-)
From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 19, 2012 at 8:37 PM
Congratulations to you, Rachel, and also, Anne, a big congratulations to you as well!

When I was expecting my Natalie, the only time she objected to the music was during a church gig, during some heavily microphoned gospel number for which I wasn't playing. She started kicking like mad! I actually played an audition while pregnant with her. More difficult was when I was playing gigs while pregnant with No. 2, getting childcare for No. 1!

And then there's the past 14 years with them both out in the world, but we won't go any farther!

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