Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London have been advertising 'Womb Song' workshops for mums-to-be, free singing sessions designed to give you a lift at any stage of your pregnancy.
I was seven months pregnant when the pilot scheme started up and thought I'd try one out. I'm not what you'd call a natural singer – easily persuaded off key by choristers close by – but an enthusiastic Christmas carol belter all the same.
Music leader Maya Waldman put us at ease, launching straight into breathing and singing exercises that involved everything from buzzing like bees to tra-la-la-ing with laughter.
"I wanted to create a space where pregnant women could experience how singing and breathing can help them during pregnancy," she said.
Singing can help pregnant women feel positive in themselves and gain confidence in their voice, and it's a way to release your feelings and lift your spirits.
Maya's repertoire incorporates a vast range of songs from around the world. We sang African lullabies and harmonies from tiny islands south of Papua New Guinea. We warbled songs in rounds and after our nervous start we were thrilled at how good we really sounded.
Singing simple phrases in a foreign tongue felt soothing too, and with a collection of mums-to-be from many different countries it helped everyone to focus on the melody itself, not the message.
Maya said she tried to choose songs from Britain and around the world, from different cultures and traditions.
"The songs are generally easy to learn and tend to make you feel uplifted or relaxed when you sing them," she explained. "You don't need to feel confident about singing in order to come and people find the songs very easy to pick up."
We focused on breathing in an interesting way – big deep breaths and then slowly releasing all the air out, "like you're a tyre deflating all the way."
It was a far cry from fictional screen births, with doctors and nurses sternly shouting "Breathe! Breathe!"
Maya said: "Supported breathing helps to energise you and relieve discomfort as well. Singing is also a wonderful way to connect with other people in the group and share experience and gain support from each other."
First-time mum Patrizia started at the classes when she was in her first trimester. She said: "It was good because it helped to release the stress from work and really get rid of any other problems I might have had.
"It helped me enjoy the pregnancy."
Italian-born Patrizia said the relaxation benefits were a godsend when she was far away from family.
"Singing when you're pregnant has lots of benefits for you and baby, because if you are relaxed then baby will be too," she said. "Everyone tells you to talk to your unborn baby but I felt self-conscious talking to my tummy, so singing is a fantastic way to get round that embarrassment.
When we hit the lowest bass notes my little one would wriggle like crazy – definitely enjoying the sweet music.
The breathing exercises were helpful during her labour, as she explained. "It was very intense and mentally you need something to release the pain of the contractions. Even when the contraction was very strong I didn't give up, it gave me the confidence."
The singing workshops have been funded through donations to the Chelsea and Westminster Health Charity as part of their Hospital Arts programme.
Arts officer Anna Matthams said the idea was to enhance patient care in creative and innovative ways, benefiting patients, staff and visitors alike.
"The health benefits include the release of endorphins and serotonin, making participants feel relaxed and happy, and it supports breathing and acts as a natural pain relief during labour," she said.
"Singing also helps the baby recognise the mother's voice, helping with the mother-baby bond and improving language development after birth."
My experience was also a cost-effective lesson in the use of precious NHS resources. Our baby arrived just an hour and a half after we reached the hospital and we only needed one midwife for a very relaxed, calm water birth.
Result? For the cost of a few gallons of hot water to fill the pool, literally three sucks of the gas and air and wages for one midwife we got one beautiful baby girl. Many of my fellow Womb Song graduates reported similarly relaxed births.
At the moment the singing workshops are funded through charity donations, not the NHS, but for the price of a singing instructor it seemed a real bargain. In these cash-strapped times surely it makes sense to reduce costly medical interventions wherever possible.
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