Singing can help postnatal depression

Group singing could help women recover from moderate to severe postnatal depression more quickly, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

The study, led by researchers from the Centre for Performance Science, randomly placed 134 mothers with symptoms of postnatal depression into three groups to see whether singing could reduce their symptoms in the first 40 weeks after birth.

One group received their usual care, another received 10 weeks of group play workshops, and the final group received 10 weeks of group singing workshops. Singing workshops involved mothers listening to songs sung by the group leader, learning and singing songs with their babies, and creating new songs together reflecting aspects of motherhood.

Mothers with moderate to severe symptoms of postnatal depression in the singing group reported a faster improvement in their symptoms than mothers in the usual care group. There was no significant difference in speed of recovery between the play group and the usual care group.

Postnatal depression is estimated to affect 1 in 8 new mothers and 25% of women affected have symptoms lasting over a year. Early recovery is crucial to limit effects on both baby and mother. Funded by Arts Council England Research Grants Fund, this research reiterates previous findings that postnatal depression improves over time but provides additional insight into ways to speed up recovery with simple psychosocial interventions such as group singing.

Dr Trudi Seneviratne, Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Perinatal Faculty said: “It’s exciting to hear about the growing evidence base for novel psychosocial interventions such as singing to facilitate a more rapid recovery for women with postnatal depression.  I look forward to more work in this area in the future, as it will be enjoyed by both mothers and their babies.”

Breathe Arts Health Research have already put the new findings into practice, running singing workshops in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Trust for women with postnatal depression across Lambeth and Southwark. It hopes the programme will reach over 200 new mothers in the next three years and will specifically target women from deprived backgrounds or from typically hard to reach groups.

Dr Daisy Fancourt from University College London, lead author on the study, said: “Many mothers have concerns about taking depression medication whilst breast-feeding and uptake of psychological therapies with new mothers is relatively low. So these results are really exciting as they suggest that something as simple as referring mothers to community activities could support their recovery.” 

Dr Rosie Perkins, Research Fellow in the Centre for Performance Science and Principal Investigator for the research said “Postnatal depression is debilitating for mothers and their families, yet our research indicates that for some women something as accessible as singing with their baby could help to speed up recovery at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives.”

Learn more

Visit the British Journal of Psychiatry to read the full paper.

For more information visit the Music and Motherhood page.