Have you ever heard about using a birthing ball during pregnancy and in labor? You’re about to find out why a birth ball may easily be one of the most commonly purchased items mid-pregnancy.
Movements with a birth ball can help ease discomforts throughout pregnancy. And using one during labor, whether you’re giving birth at home or in hospital, also has a lot of benefits.
So, let’s talk about how to use a birthing ball and why you should try one.
What is a birthing ball?
A birthing ball is essentially a large ball, similar to an exercise or yoga ball, but designed for use during pregnancy, labor, and birth. With a larger size and non-slip material, a birthing ball is more comfortable to sit on and lean over during pregnancy and birth.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I had a lot of back pain from working at my desk job. As I was stretching one day (and let’s be honest, complaining a little bit), a co-worker suggested getting a birthing ball.
I sat down at my desk and started researching what a birthing ball was and how to use it. I was so excited with all of the reviews that I decided to get one. It helped me with so many of my aches and pains throughout the day.
Benefits of a birthing ball throughout pregnancy & birth
While I quickly realized the benefits of using a birthing ball, the benefits can differ depending on the person and their particular discomforts or situation.
However, many people find using a birth ball brings comfort throughout pregnancy, and there are even some research-backed reasons to try it.
Easing discomfort during pregnancy
When I was at my desk job for hours on end, the chair that I was sitting in was quite padded and even had a tall back support. However, the flatness of the chair built up pressure in my back and caused me to rotate often, trying to get comfortable.
Once I started using the birthing ball in place of my desk chair, I noticed that it eased the discomfort during the rest of my pregnancy. Sitting on a birthing ball creates a more natural curve in the spine, taking the pressure off the spine and pelvis.
Helps with fetal positioning
When we are sitting on a couch or chair, we naturally tend to slouch. Slouching, while not bad for you by any means, can encourage the baby’s head to slip into the back of the pelvis, putting pressure on the ligaments and bones.
Using a birthing ball encourages a more upright position, which creates balance in the pelvis, allowing the baby to engage for a more optimal fetal position.
Moving labor along or getting it started
A lot of people wonder how to naturally induce labor as they arrive at their due date. Working with the birthing ball may help induce labor, or even get it moving along.
One way to use an exercise ball to induce labor is by simply bouncing on it. Gently bouncing on the birthing ball puts pressure on the cervix, helping increase contractions. It also stimulates the uterus without exerting a lot of effort on the body.
Movements like hip circles or figure eights while sitting on the birthing ball can also help your baby come down into the pelvis and find the most ideal spot for them to descend.
Calming your newborn
If you can imagine how rocking and bouncing calms a newborn when they are on the outside of the uterus, it also helps calm them on the inside. Rhythmic motion can create a sense of calm for your baby and even for you.
Just like the birthing ball calms a newborn it can help reduce stress by creating movement patterns and keeping the mind and body moving.
Encouraging natural birth
According to research, using a birth ball may reduce the chances of needing a C-section. Movement helps create space in the pelvis, which can help your baby navigate down through the pelvis in a more ideal way. It can also help with coping through an unmedicated labor vs using interventions.
How to use a birthing ball at every stage
There are many ways to use the birthing ball throughout pregnancy, labor, and birth.
Making sure that you have the correct size for your height is very important. Please reflect on the chart below to make sure you have a ball that fits your body correctly.
Suggested ball height
55 cm/22 inches
65 cm/26 inches
75 cm/ 30 inches
85 cm/ 34 inches
It is important to make sure that when you are sitting on it your hips are parallel with your knees. Be sure to follow directions on how to inflate it correctly and to its correct capacity. See the image below to verify that your hips and knees are correctly aligned.
Birthing ball exercises during pregnancy
If you have a birthing ball during pregnancy, we suggest to our followers and doula clients to try and be on their ball doing exercises for at least 10-15 minutes a day. NOTE: Always check with your provider before beginning any new exercise.
There is no time limit on how long you can be on your birthing ball. Follow your body’s lead and if you feel sore or uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to stop or take a break.
Here are 5 exercises you can perform on your birthing ball.
Doing the pelvic tilt during pregnancy can ease the aches and other discomforts that you are experiencing as you are growing this perfect little human. The pelvic tilt strengthens your abdominal muscles, pelvic floor, and even your lower and upper back.
Performing figure eights on your birthing ball during pregnancy can create movement for your pelvis and take any specific pressure points off of your pelvis and back that may be present.
You can do figure eights by circling your hips and “drawing” a figure eight with the lower part of your body, while seated on the ball.
Squatting with a birth ball
Squats can open the pelvis and help bring your baby down, but it’s important to keep proper form while you squat. That means focusing on pulling your upper body straight up and sticking your lower body out behind you. When we have a cute bowling ball sized baby in front of us, it can cause us to perform the movement incorrectly, pulling our upper body down.
Using a birthing ball during this exercise can help your posture stay upright, so you can perform squats with good form. You can do this by holding the ball in your hands straight out in front of you while you squat.
Bouncing up and down on your birthing ball may eliminate pressure on your back. It creates an active movement in your spine which keeps it loose, with positive energy flowing through it.
Sometimes it can be hard to lift weights or incorporate weights during pregnancy because with standing, our backs naturally pull forward, affecting posture in a negative way.
Using your birthing ball to sit and do weight training can help your upper body keep a healthy posture and not risk putting unnecessary pressure on the back. Be sure to check with your health care provider to make sure weight training is appropriate for your pregnancy and individual circumstances.
Using a birthing ball during labor
Many birthing moms will at some point in their labor try to use a birthing ball for comfort or to help things progress. For moms who want to go unmedicated vs getting an epidural, the birthing ball is a fantastic tool to use.
Hospitals and birthing centers all over the world provide birthing balls in all sizes. There is a traditional birthing ball as well as a newer design called the peanut ball. The peanut ball comes more into play during labor to open the pelvis and allow the baby to come down.
One of the benefits of having a doula is that they are typically trained in all of these exercises to help labor progress.
Here are some ways to use a birthing ball during labor.
Sitting on the ball
Standing in labor can become very exhausting. Using a birth ball to sit on can offer great support while bringing the baby down. If you are enjoying counter pressure by your birthing team, this is still possible. Just make sure that you are feeling secure and have extra support to hold onto if needed.
Leaning over the ball
One of the most common positions to labor in is hands and knees. This position is amazing because it can also take pressure off the pelvis and help with coping through labor. However, the pressure on wrists and arms can add up after leaning on them for a while.
Adding a birthing ball to lean over can take the pressure off the upper body and still provide comfort for the mom.
Peanut ball positions
Anyone can work with a peanut ball but a trained doula, nurse, or provider may be able to help you get into a position with a peanut ball with more ease. Here are a few additional positions in which a peanut ball can be used.
- Opening the inlet of the pelvis: This position can be done with both unmedicated and epidural moms. Lying down, you place the peanut ball between your legs, under your knees, opening your knees outward. This allows a baby that is higher to come down into the pelvis.
- Parallel: Placing the ball between the legs so the knees and feet are parallel with one another can help a baby continue to navigate through the pelvis. You can use this position when the baby is considered engaged (when the baby is at a 0 station)
- Opening the outlet: Once the baby has started to descend below a 0 station, it is great to switch the peanut ball from between the knees and place it between the feet. This is to help open the outlet of the pelvis.
- Flying cow girl: Lying on your side, with the peanut ball between your legs, arch your spine back to get into this position. This is a fantastic position that you can use the peanut ball with to open the opening brim of the pelvis and help the baby engage. It might be helpful if there has been the same dilation or station stat for a few hours. Do this for 5-6 consecutive contractions and then try something else, like the opening brim position with the peanut ball, bouncing on the birthing ball, or standing up. Make sure to really arch your spine back.
After the birth
Even after you’ve had your baby, you can still benefit from using the birthing ball after birth. Sometimes with birth, we can have a sore pelvic floor due to tearing or swelling. Sitting on a birthing ball can take some of the pressure off of that pelvic floor and make it more comfortable.
And, just like soothing your baby when they are inside, they love to be bounced when they are on the outside. Sitting on the ball can take the pressure off of the pelvic floor and help support your back while bouncing and swaying your baby to sleep.
When should you start using a birthing ball?
You can start using your birthing ball whenever you would like. You do not need to be far along in your pregnancy in order to begin using it. Be sure to check the size chart and get a ball that is appropriate for your height. This will help you feel more supported. When you are using your birth ball, use it for as long as you would like or until it becomes uncomfortable.
Does a birthing ball help start labor?
The birthing ball has been known to help increase movement which in turn can help labor start or progress. If contractions have already begun, bouncing on a ball can help engage the baby into the pelvis and encourage labor to start. If your body is not ready for labor, it can still help engage your baby, but may not start labor.
How long should I bounce on a ball to induce labor?
You can bounce on the ball as long as you would like, but if you are trying to induce labor, you may want to bounce for a half hour or so to see if it helps.
What is the best size for a birthing ball?
The size of a birthing ball depends on how tall you are. The biggest thing to pay attention to is that your hips are parallel with your knees. You want to make sure that your hips do not fall below your knees when you are sitting on it. Also be sure to follow the directions and inflate it correctly.