Pregnancy changes many things about the body, but voice changes are certainly not the first thing I thought of when I fell pregnant. One of these changes is the unmistakable crack in your voice when trying to sing. In this article, you will find the reasons being your voice cracking during pregnancy so that you can work around it.
During pregnancy, a rise in estrogen and progesterone causes the vocal cords to swell. Talking or singing with swollen vocal cords can strain the surrounding muscles, which causes them to unexpectedly contract or relax, or 'crack'. Vocal cracks are prevented by regularly strengthening these muscles.
I will explain this in more detail below. You'll also be pleased to know that the strenghtening exercises required to prevent these cracks are quite easy.
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Voice Cracking is Caused by Pregnancy Hormones
Pregnancy changes many things in the body, including the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones are known to cause changes to the voice, which is why some women also experience changes to their voice during menopause.
This is because the tissue that forms the vocal cords and other structures in the larynx (voice box) have receptors for these hormones. Receptors allow the hormones to attach to the cells of that tissue and make changes.
To put it simply, a rise in estrogen and progesterone causes the changes in your voice box that cause your voice to crack.
For more detail about how this rise in hormones leads to a voice crack during your performance, you can read about each hormone below. If you just want to get straight into how you can fix this problem, skip ahead to how you can prevent it.
Estrogen is the hormone most responsible for the changes in your voice during pregnancy.
Estrogen rises significantly and steadily during pregnancy. This causes certain tissue within your body to swell, including the vocal cords. Swollen vocal cords do not vibrate as effectively, which puts strain on the muscles surrounding them.
Once the muscles have become strained, they are more likely to suddenly tense up or relax unexpectedly, much like any other muscle when it becomes tired. This is similar to having a leg cramp or having your legs give way after running.
You may also find that this makes your throat hurt after you sing. For information on other factors that contribute to a sore throat after singing, click here.
Progesterone has less of an effect than estrogen on voice cacking during pregnancy, but it still contributes. Although progesterone levels are lower than estrogen levels, there is a steady increase in progesterone throughout pregnancy.
These rising levels cause the mucous membranes within the voice box to shed cells, meaning that less mucous is produced. The mucous secretions, which normally keep the throat moist, also become stickier and therefore less effective at moistening the throat.
This combination of changes causes the vocal folds to become dry, which can make it harder for the body to produce sound when talking or singing. This adds to the strain on the muscles around the vocal cords and contributes to the chances of your voice cracking.
There are a number of ways you can soothe your voice after straining it, and there are even ways you can get away with singing with a sore throat. Take a look at this article for more information.
How to Prevent Voice Cracking During Pregnancy
As I have mentioned above, the key reason your voice is cracking is due to weakness of the muscles around the vocal cords. They may have been strong enough to sustain your voice prior to pregnancy, but the changes to the vocal cords and larynx during pregnancy mean they require more strength to produce sound.
You can learn all about how your body produces sound when singing in this article. I find having a better understanding of the anatomy and physiology helps when understanding what is going wrong.
The key to strengthening the muscles in your larynx and preventing voice cracking is vocal exercises.
You may have noticed that many professional singers are able to continue performing well into their pregnancy. This is because vocal exercises are part of their daily routine and they take good care of their voice. Below are some key exercises you can do to prevent vocal cracks during pregnancy.
Yawning Exercise: Opening up Your Throat
If you yawn silently, now is the time to change. Producing sound while yawning allows your vocal cords to work while completely opening up your throat.
This is an important exercise for strengthening the vocal cords because we don't tend to open our throats this much when singing normally. Stretching the vocal cords and surrounding muscles in this way provides the perfect environment for strenghtening the muscles without strain.
When yawning, you should aim to slide your voice down to the lower limits of your range. This is the natural sound people make when they yawn anyway. Another exercise you could try is imitating Yogi Bear. The way that Yogi says his popular catchphrase 'Yogi Yogi Bear' opens up the back of the throat in the same way as a yawn. This time, however, you will be sliding your voice higher.
Performing these exercises 5-10 times per day, combined with the following exercises, should strengthen your vocal cords and prevent cracking.
Singing Scales and Sirens: Widen your Range
Scales and sirens are very popular vocal exercises - for good reason. These exercises work wonders for strengthening your vocal cords and are very easy to do.
Sirens involve sliding your voice up and down to an 'oo' or 'oh' sound (like a siren), from the bottom limit of your range to the very top. This helps the vocal cords to move smoothly between each note. It also allows you to practice subtly transitioning between chest voice and head voice.
This is similar to slowly moving your arms up and down continuously until the movement becomes smooth and effortless. At first your movements might be a little bit jerky or it might tire out your arm muscles, but eventually the muscles get used to holding themselves in any given position.
Scales should be performed ascending (going up) and descending (going down). If you're not sure what a scale is, take a look at this article. These should be done repeatedly, using different sounds such as 'na na na' or 'no no no'.
You may find it helpful downloading an app with scales to help you, such as Singer's Friend. This app plays a number of different scales in ascending or descending order so that you can copy and warm up your voice.
There are also other techniques you can use to widen your range, which you can find here.
Sing with a Nasal Tone: Strengthen your Middle Voice
Strengthening your vocal cords also involves knowing how to sing without straining your voice. Straining your muscles until they have no strength left is not healthy and can lead to damage in the vocal cords.
The key to not straining your vocal cords is to incorperate more of your head voice into your singing range. This involves strengthening the 'middle voice', which is a term used to describe the mix of head voice and chest voice.
To explain briefly: chest voice is the voice we use to talk. The sound is strong and clear and feels like it comes from the chest (hence the name). Head voice, on the other hand, is our airy fairy voice. It is usually very breathy and light, and doesn't require much energy. Head voice usually comes naturally when singing higher notes.
Having a strong middle voice combines the power of your chest voice with the effortlessness of your head voice. Because the muscles don't have to work as hard, they are less likely to cause cracking, and yet you can still produce a beautiful loud sound.
You can naturally find your middle voice by imitating a cat's 'meow', or imitating Janice from Friends. Make the sound really nasally. Add twang - the nasty and annoying tone in Janice's voice from Friends (link to YouTube). You should try using this nasal tone during the scales and siren exercises mentioned above.
Sounds such as 'nay', 'me' and 'ya' should help you find that nasal tone.
Repetition: Boost your Confidence
Finally, if your voice has cracked, even just once during a performance, your confidence has likely plummeted. It's important to maintain confidence during a performance for your voice to reach its full potential. Reaching for notes when you don't 100% believe you can reach them is a guaranteed way of not reaching those notes.
With that in mind, the best way to boost your confidence is to practice. Sing your song over and over again until you are nailing it every time. You can start doing this by yourself, but you should also try in front of a small audience, such as family or friends.
If you need more help regaining your confidence, I have outlined how to sing confidently on this page. Once you've proven to your brain that you can sing without cracking, your voice is less likely to freeze up in fear when you perform.