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Harmonising Health: using the power of song to boost maternal mental wellness

By Lilli Murdoch from Breathe Melodies for Mums

The impact of postnatal depression for families continues to be of major concern. Finding ways to promote maternal well-being is therefore of importance in communities. In this article Lilli Murdoch from ‘Breathe Melodies for Mums‘, shares the innovative, and research-based, way in which singing is making a difference.


In the world of maternal care, and the treatment of postnatal depression (PND), a unique chorus is rising. It’s not found in traditional therapies or medications, but rather in the joyous, communal act of singing.   

Breathe Melodies for Mums, a pioneering evidence-based programme offered by Breathe Arts Health Research, is hitting the high notes of support for mothers grappling with or at risk of postnatal depression (PND). Based on a research study by the Royal College of Music and Imperial College ( Fancourt & Perkins 2017), it is more than just a singing group, it is a symphony of support, empowerment, and togetherness. The programme is designed for new mothers experiencing low mood, anxiety, stress, social isolation, or symptoms of PND, with babies aged 0-9 months and offers weekly group singing sessions with a novel approach.  

You won’t hear the usual nursery rhymes here. Songs have been carefully chosen to challenge the group artistically with lots of harmonies and multiple parts. The lyrics are accessible and inclusive with beautiful songs from around the world in different languages taking centre stage. The group is designed to focus firmly on the mothers, who are led by professional singing leads through a diverse repertoire of songs challenging them artistically and creatively, boosting mood and creating a sense of togetherness through song. It’s unlike any other mum and baby group you have ever seen before. 

“It was the highlight of my week, warming up, singing, and then going home with a peaceful mind and a tuneful heart. The rest of the week would still contain its struggles, but I knew that hour on a Thursday morning would be really joyful, so on hard days I had something to look forward to.”  

The robust clinical research behind the programme distinguishes this mum and baby group from others too. Initial research took 134 mothers experiencing symptoms of PND and randomly allocated them to one of three programmes (group singing, creative play, or care as normal) for ten weeks. Their symptoms were measured at the start, after six weeks, and at the end of the programmes. The results showed that for mums with moderate to severe symptoms of PND, the group singing programme led to significantly faster recovery than the other care protocols. In fact, after just six weeks of singing, these mums experienced a decrease of nearly 35% in their symptoms, and 67% no longer displaying moderate-severe symptoms. The singing group also showed greater decreases in stress hormones and greater mother-infant bonding than other social interaction. 

“Over the weeks I really felt like I got some of me back, that everything was OK and that I wasn’t alone.  It was an amazing time for me to spend with my baby, bonding, spending quality time together, and being present in the moment.” 

The sessions provide a safe, nurturing space for new mums to find their voice, both literally and metaphorically, and to reconnect with themselves, their babies, and others. You don’t have to be musical or play an instrument. You can just turn up with an open heart and mind and within minutes be doing something creative with others.  Plus, our friendly team is always there to lend a helping hand whenever you need it, so you can take a moment for yourself, and immerse yourself in the music and uplifting atmosphere.  

Sessions start with a lovely physical and vocal warm up. Soft hums fill the room as the mothers ground themselves and shake off the worries of the day. Then the singing leader introduces a variety of songs from traditional lullabies to gospel and folk. As the singing unfolds, something magical happens. The initial hesitations and uncertainties fade away, replaced by a chorus of voices singing in harmony. There is a vibration in the room when you sing with other people that can’t be compared to anything else and the babies feel it too. The shared experience of motherhood, with all its joys and challenges, is woven into the fabric of every song.  

“Just to know that there were other people in the same situation made me feel like it was something that could be dealt with and would improve.”  

Women face many barriers to accessing support for PND including long waits, lack of continuity of care, misunderstanding and stigma.  Further, a review of ethnic minority women’s experiences of perinatal mental health conditions concluded that culturally insensitive health services and lack of awareness about mental ill-health can all impact their ability to access support. Breathe Melodies for Mums breaks down these barriers by providing an accessible, welcoming space focussed on wellbeing where women can come together to explore their creativity and find kinship among others facing similar challenges, without any pressure to discuss their experiences. Over ten weeks participants can benefit from emotional and mental wellbeing, improved bonding with their babies, and feel valued in a way that perhaps they had not before. 

“I felt like I was in my own world, and not in other people’s world; Breathe Melodies for Mums gave me the light to see that it’s not only me that felt this way and that you can remove yourself from the situation and feel happy and confident again.”   

In a recent collaboration, Breathe Arts Health Research and Kings College London joined forces on the world’s largest hybrid study, looking at the impact of the arts on mental health embedded into a national healthcare, SHAPER (Scaling-up Health-Arts Programme: Implementation and Effectiveness Research). 

As part of the SHAPER initiative, through the Breathe Melodies for Mums programme, they examined the impact of group singing on maternal mental health of new mothers. The findings from this study are set to be revealed later this year.  

Since its inception in 2017, the Breathe Melodies for Mums programme has connected with over 1,000 mothers and 1,000 babies. Additionally, they have expanded their reach by offering online programmes to support new mothers nationally. 

Midwives are uniquely positioned to identify mothers who may be at risk of or experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression and could benefit from Breathe Melodies for Mums. With new FREE Breathe Melodies for Mums programmes starting in May 2024 in Wandsworth, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, and Lambeth it is a great time to get involved. Your referral could be the first step in a new mother’s journey towards overcoming postnatal depression and building a community of other mothers through song.  

Signpost women you are working with to us directly online or get in touch with the Breathe Melodies for Mums team  at [email protected] or 07511 214069 /020 3290 2013 

Lili Murdoch, Breathe Melodies 

March 2024