Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Impact of Pregnancy on the Singing Voice: A Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Impact of Pregnancy on the Singing Voice: A Case Study

Article excerpt


IN 1999 I WAS NEWLY MARRIED and in the midst of doctoral studies in voice at The Ohio State University when I discovered that I was expecting a baby. As a student, graduate teaching assistant, and adjunct faculty member at another college, I was unsure how this would affect my singing and my performance obligations over the next nine months. Shaken and insecure, I immediately forfeited an opera role scheduled for the following May. My wise voice teacher, who also served as my advisor, didn't allow me to cancel any recitals or lose focus, however, and I embarked on that physiological adventure called pregnancy-as well as the voice alterations that result from pregnancy often referred to in medical literature as laryngopathia gravidarum-and didn't veer from my academic course.

In 2008, having completed the DMA degree several years earlier, I found that I was expecting my third child. Since that initial pregnancy I had looked for scholarly articles about pregnancy and the singing voice. All of the information appeared to be anecdotal with the exception of a brief, yet informative article by Dr. Anthony Jahn, published by Classical Singer in 1999.1

I contacted speech-language pathologist Marina Gilman at the Emory Voice Center at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta in order to initiate a more scientific observation of the vocal changes during my pregnancy. Emory Voice Center is a voice specialization outpatient clinic associated with the Department of Otolaryngology, Head/Neck Surgery. Marina graciously agreed to aid me in this research endeavor, offering both her expertise and technological resources at the Center. My purpose was three-fold: 1) to observe and analyze physical changes of the vocal folds during pregnancy; 2) to analyze and assess acoustic and perceptual changes during pregnancy; and 3) to provide information to voice teachers and professional singers about how pregnancy affects the singing voice.

This article describes the observations and discoveries pertaining to singing during pregnancy that I made with the kind help of SLP Gilman. A glossary of relevant terms has been included at the end of the article.


The female voice is subject to hormonal influence throughout a woman's lifetime and most noticeably as a result of the female menstrual cycle. Changing levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can affect voice quality and vocal range.2 This is particularly troublesome to classically trained singers who perform and teach professionally, or to those female singers who study seriously, take auditions, and participate in highstakes competitions in order to build a career as a professional singer.

During pregnancy the female singer experiences an additional collection of symptoms that can have an effect on her voice. Blood volume can increase by 50% affecting the lining of the airways, joints and ligaments loosen and swell, and the digestive tract and skin may be affected.3 While there are no periodic voice changes on a monthly basis, the increase of estrogen and progesterone, as well as the extreme physiologic, metabolic, and anatomic adaptations that take place during the 40 weeks of gestation, can have a significant effect on the classical singer's artistry and ability.


My research took the form of a case study-a systematic look at a specific instance-with the intention of devising recommendations for future study. Over the course of the pregnancy data was collected and analyzed.

Marina Gilman and I met at the Emory Voice Center in order to take measurements 4 times during the 40week pregnancy: at 9 weeks, 17 weeks, 27 weeks, and 35 weeks. The measurements included the following:

* Imaging of the folds by videostroboscopy.

* A sound recording of a standardized reading passage ("The Rainbow Passage") in order to evaluate mean speaking fundamental frequency.

* Acoustic measures taken using the KayPentax Computerized Speech Lab 4600 (the analysis of sustained phonation, % jitter, % shimmer, % relative average perturbation [RAP], physiological pitch range in Hertz [Hz] and semitones [ST]). …

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