By Sally Robertson, BSc
Throughout pregnancy, rises in the levels of estrogen and progesterone cause changes in many parts of a woman’s body, including changes that affect the voice.
Examples of changes that affect the voice include the following:
- Postural changes
- Swollen vocal cords
- Altered range of voice
- Increased likelihood of acid reflux
- More fragile blood vessels in the vocal cords
- Reduced lung capacity
- Lowered nasal resonance
During pregnancy, hormonal changes cause relaxation of the ligaments, causing shifts in the shape of the chest, back and pelvis. These postural changes may completely alter the support and singing mechanism. As a result, some women may find they can no longer sing, particularly during the third trimester. If this happens, a woman should not push or strain her voice.
A woman should keep in mind that the loss of ability to sing is a result of the physiological changes in her body, changes that will resolve after the baby is born. Pregnant women are advised to make an appointment with a laryngologist if they experience:
- a sudden change in the voice after singing, coughing or sneezing
- pain when speaking or singing
- a dramatic loss of vocal range.
Swollen vocal cords and altered range of voice
Women experience swelling in various different parts of their body throughout pregnancy due to fluid retention as well as other metabolic alterations. During this period, the vocal cords also swell up. This increases the weight and stiffness of the vocal cords, making them less pliable. This may have an effect on the overall range of the woman when singing.
Women may find that they are less able to reach higher notes, but more able to reach lower ones. If this happens, it is important that women do not strain or push their voices to try and reach these higher notes. This can cause blood vessels in the vocal cords to rupture or leak blood. These blood vessels are already more fragile and more likely be traumatized and to tear. In addition, the swollen vocal cords are also softer and more susceptible to tears.
Increased likelihood of acid reflux
Acid reflux and indigestion are common problems that women report during pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy cause relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, which usually prevents stomach acids from splashing up into the esophagus. Furthermore, the stomach capacity is reduced, which means acid regurgitation is more likely when the pregnant woman’s stomach becomes full. Symptoms of acid reflux causing laryngeal irritation include an altered voice, frequent need to clear the throat, and heartburn.
Increased fragility of blood vessels in the vocal cords
Pregnancy causes blood vessels to become dilated in various parts of the body. This is the cause of many pregnancy-related problems such as hemorrhoids, varicose veins and swelling of the vagina. In the same way, the blood vessels in the vocal cords may also become dilated, which increases their susceptibility to hemorrhaging. Women singers are advised to rest their voice during pregnancy, and to avoid attempts to increase their vocal range during this period.
Reduced lung capacity
The diaphragm and other organs are pushed up into the chest cavity as the baby develops and grows. Thus, as the pregnancy progresses, the pregnant woman may find it difficult to breathe deeply enough to prolong certain high notes. This may lead to vocal fatigue, and a reduced ability to sustain notes for a long period while singing.
Lowered nasal resonance
Swelling of the nasal mucosa may also occur during pregnancy, reducing the ability of the woman to inhale through the nose. This reduces or prevents the resonance of sound within the paranasal sinus cavities, which can cause the voice to lack vitality.
Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD.
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2016