You Probably Haven’t Heard This Pregnancy Symptom Before
There are a lot of strange pregnancy symptoms that I have heard about in my years of being a mom and a nurse. In fact, pregnancy does a lot of weird things to a woman's body, some of which we all know very well and some of which we don't talk too much about (discharge and hemorrhoids, here's looking at you). But there's one way that pregnancy changes your body that you may have never thought about:
Pregnancy actually changes your voice.
According to a new study in Human Behavior and Evolution, a woman's voice changes during pregnancy and for about one year after delivery. The study concluded that, “Mothers' voices became significantly lower-pitched and more monotonous during the first year postpartum compared to during pregnancy or before.”
Um, does anyone else find that a tad bit offensive? Who are you calling monotonous, pal?
The study found that the average mother's pitch dropped an average of 14 Hz, which is around 1.3 semitones after pregnancy. Not only did moms' pitches lower, but the literal maximum pitch their voices were able to reach dropped as well. As in, moms couldn't even make their pitches higher if they tried. The pitch changes were completely temporary, however, and only lasted about a year from when the mother had given birth.
Apparently, a woman's voice changes quite a bit over the course of her lifetime, and perhaps not surprisingly, right alongside with her fertility. For example, one of the most drastic changes that happen in a woman's voice happens to her after menopause, when her voice actually drops by much as 35 Hz, which equals out to three semitones for a woman who previously had an average voice pitch.
And a woman's voice also fluctuates with her menstrual cycle. Studies have found that a woman's voice may change when she is ovulating. You probably already can guess what's coming, but the voice changes that happen during ovulation are, of course, more preferable to men. Men actually picked out audio recordings of women around the time they were ovulating more than when they recorded audio during other times of the month. (Sigh. Men. They're sooo predictable and apparently, nature only has one thing on its mind, huh?)
In going along with the research that currently exists about how women's voices change, especially with their fertility, we can conclude that the lower pitch and “monotonous” tone that lasts for a year after delivery mean only thing = it's just another way that nature is trying to stop that mom from getting pregnant again by making her voice less “desirable.”
“Our results demonstrate that pregnancy has a transient and perceptually salient masculinizing effect on women's voices,” the study concluded.
The other theories the study's authors had about why exactly a woman's voice would drop with pregnancy and during her baby's infancy were two-fold: 1) the hormones of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the postpartum period affect the vocal cords and it can take up to a full year before they return to pre-pregnancy levels or 2) a mother unconsciously changes her voice in order to conform to society's expectation of what mothers should sound like.
The authors explained that lower-pitched voices are associated with traits such as being competent, trustworthy, mature, and dominant, while higher-pitched tones are perceived to be more feminine, youthful, and submissive. Thus, a mother who is trying to prove to the world (and perhaps herself) that she knows what she's doing and can take care of this baby may subconsciously lower her voice's pitch so she appears more in-charge.
I don't know, it sounds a little far-fetched to me. I'm no scientist, but I would put my theory into the hat that the pitch change has more to do with the pitch that infants are more likely to hear and understand. My guess is that babies who are used to being close to their moms hear those lower pitch voices better or are more likely to learn language from them and it has nothing to do with moms trying to prove something or be less sexy.
Hopefully time will prove me right, but in the meantime, if you happen to be a singer and notice that your voice changes during pregnancy, or just have a partner who claims they suddenly can't hear you after the baby is born, it might just be another side effect of pregnancy. Who knew having a baby could change so much?