News / Course Reviews

Course Review: Singing as Pregnancy and Postpartum Exercise with Hayley Williams

Thursday 6th July 2023

Hayley Williams’ pregnancy and postpartum lecture sought to create a singing method to educate and rehabilitate pregnant and postpartum women. A recent graduate from Voice Study Centre’s MA Voice Pedagogy course, she began by talking through some key ailments that pregnant women face, such as diastasis recti (separation of the rectus abdominus), pelvic floor weakness (which can in turn lead to a variety of other health problems), and alignment issues (due to a change in the centre of gravity – this can lead to ‘butt-gripping’ or ‘chest-gripping’). Diastasis recti in particular has been seen to affect up to 82% of women one year after birth (according to Hui et al’s 2021 study).

Throughout the lecture, Hayley used a helpful combination of images, diagrams and research to get her points across. She also drew on her own experiences while inviting participants to share theirs. Her analysis of ‘grey data’ supported the positive psychological effects of singing and found that professional singers had felt that their training and work had helped them through both pregnancy and labour. This was backed up by featured quotes from academic literature.

Hayley went on to present an overview of one of her own research papers; this included cross-disciplinary research combining vocal pedagogy and physiotherapy and was broken down into rehabilitative methods as follows: diaphragmatic breathing, breath work (creating neural connections), Semi Occluded Vocal Tract (SOVT) exercises, ‘in and up’ (motion of abdominal wall) and conscious pelvic floor muscles (PFM) recruitment.

So, why singing? Hayley referred to a diagram of the transversus abdominus to show how singing can restore tensile strength and discussed how breath work training for singing recruits the transversus abdominus itself. Participants were encouraged to try out exercises to encourage consistent breath flow and release abdominal tension. She then stressed the importance of the strength of the pelvic floor and how everyday activities such as coughing and laughing can adversely affect it. The next part of the lecture outlined a research intervention that Hayley carried out involving four singers and three non-singers participating in four weeks of breath work and singing. Though not many statistical advancements were made, there was lots of valuable post-intervention feedback suggesting that many physical and anatomical advancements were made instead.

The session concluded in a practical way through a number of exercises that Hayley demonstrated on screen, advising the best position (i.e. standing, sitting up, laying down, laying on side) to adopt when trying out each one. These focused on alignment & stretches (checking for tension, being aware of pelvic tilt), breath work (diaphragmatic breathing, pelvic floor recruitment, co-contraction, extended exhalations) and vocalisation (sustained ‘hum’, ‘in and up’, engaging the pelvic floor progressively).

Hayley Williams

Hayley is a contemporary singer and vocal coach with training in both classical and musical theatre techniques, however now works predominantly as a soul/pop vocalist after completeing a degree in Professional Musicianship at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music.

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