If you desire a natural childbirth, you’ll want to arm yourself with all the tools necessary to make your job easier. Enter, the birth ball!
Really just an “exercise ball” used for birth and pregnancy, a birth ball is a great companion for a natural mama’s pregnancy, birth, and beyond.
Of course, you’ll also want to get educated, eat healthy food, and take your prenatal. But, you’ll also want to think about how you’re exercising and getting your pelvis “into shape” for labor and delivery. And this is where a birth ball can come into play.
In this post, we’ll explain the what, when, why, and how of this handy (and inexpensive) tool.
Why a birth ball?
Technically called an exercise ball, a birth ball can:
- Help balance the ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the pelvic area so baby can settle into an optimal position
- During labor, it may coax baby into a better position
- Helps strengthen the lower back
- Helps to open the pelvis
- May support an easier, shorter labor
- May reduce pain during labor
- May increase blood flow to the uterus
- Can relieve back pain and back labor
- Reduce the likelihood of needing an epidural or C-section
- Reduce stress and anxiety
The two main ways a birth ball can help with these things are:
it can help get baby into a good position to start and continue labor, and it allows mom to have free movement during labor. Free movement during labor is one of the ways a laboring mom can help her baby descend into the birth canal. Mom instinctively moves in the way that is most helpful to her and baby. But movement can become tiring, so a birth ball can help support mom while she continues to move and sway.
A birth ball during pregnancy
Birth balls are an excellent way to prepare your body for birth. Spend some time every day sitting upright on your birth ball. This can be at your desk, watching TV, or whatever you’re doing. Sitting upright helps support and open the pelvis, loosen the ligaments, and support the lower back.
Why not just sit upright on a chair?
If you’re doing this on a hard chair, it’s easy to begin slouching or sinking back into the chair because it’s not that comfortable! A birth ball is soft on your bottom but forces you to sit upright since there’s no back to lean on. By having to stay balanced, this exercise ball engages your core and pelvic floor, strengthening these muscles for labor.
A birth ball recreates ancestral movement
Sitting upright on a birth ball improves your posture. Many of us have learned poor posture from a more leisurely life. In comparison, our ancestors may have been squatting in the fields, walking long distances, and sitting on firm chairs only, or cross-legged on the floor (no Lazy Boy chairs back then!)
Pregnancy can worsen posture by stretching abdominal muscles, allowing the belly to hang forward, and pushing the back out of alignment. Spending time each day on your ball can help strengthen your core muscles and bring everything back into alignment.
Birth ball during prodromal labor
When your posture is optimal during pregnancy, baby may settle into the pelvis better, which can help labor begin and progress optimally. Many women who have had prodromal labor (labor that doesn’t progress and then stops, usually at night) also have a baby who is not in the best position.
If you are having prodromal labor or are past your due date (see our due date calculator here) and believe baby’s position may be to blame, your midwife may ask you to sit on the birth ball to get baby’s head engaged.
How to use a birth ball
- Don’t inflate your ball to the max. You want it to have a little give, as this makes it much more comfortable.
- Sit on your ball with feet flat on the floor and spread apart to form a tripod with the birth ball.
- Roll your shoulders back and pull your lower belly in slightly (instead of just letting it hang).
- You can try doing small hip circles to stretch the pelvis.
Alternatively, you can use your ball to help you practice squatting (the best way to open the pelvis and balance the body).
- Use the birth ball against the wall as a support.
- Lift the ball so that it rests on your middle back.
- Then roll the ball up and down the wall as you squat.
This is great for times when a partner isn’t available to help.
Birth ball during labor
Laboring upright is a wonderful way to help baby descend into the birth canal because it works with gravity. Many women can’t labor laying down and must be sitting or standing. The birth ball allows mom to sit upright while giving her a more comfortable place to sit besides a chair. The rounding of the ball gives a little soft pressure during labor but is also very forgiving and bends to fit your bottom.
Some women enjoy their ball right up until delivery, while others need to switch to the birthing stool to relieve the pressure. Many midwives swear by the birth ball to get baby into a better position if labor is stalling, or if you’re experiencing back labor.
Good birthing positions to try
Sit on the birth ball the same way you did during pregnancy. Have your partner sit in a chair behind you for support if you like. Use the ball to sway or circle your hips through contractions.
The birth ball is also an excellent prop for women who are laboring on all fours or on their knees. Lean forward onto the birth ball for support during contractions or to rest in between.
Again, you can use the ball to sway or circle through contractions if that feels right. This can be particularly helpful if you have back labor, when sitting directly on anything just hurts too much.
You may also combine these two ideas and use the ball to sit on while leaning forward on a mountain of pillows or bed.
Birth ball during delivery
It’s even possible to give birth on a birth ball. Some women like the soft pressure of the ball while they are pushing. Be sure to have someone behind you to support you while you push so that you can lean back and allow baby to come out. You may also be able to sit farther forward on the ball with your lower back on the ball and in a squatting position. In this case, you may need to place the ball against a wall for stability.
Birth ball on steroids: the peanut ball
What’s better than one birth ball? Two! This contraption is called a peanut ball and is essentially two birth balls fused together. And yes, it looks like a peanut, as the name suggests. Hospitals use these for women who need to lay down or be in bed during labor (epidural, high blood pressure, etc). The peanut ball helps keep the pelvis open to keep labor progressing. Studies show that women who have epidural anesthesia benefit tremendously from a peanut ball with labors that are up to 2 hours shorter! The peanut ball also seems to encourage spontaneous vaginal births because c-section and vacuum/forceps deliveries were also lower in the study.
How to use a peanut ball to rotate baby
Here are some helpful positions to try using your peanut ball. This can be especially helpful for posterior babies or moms who need to rest.
Side lying position – Mom lays on one side and places the ball between her legs. Sometimes she’ll bend the top leg into a 90-degree angle, depending on her comfort.
Fowler position – This position is when mom is sitting upright or semi-upright, and her legs are open in a butterfly position. The peanut ball goes under one leg. Mom switches the peanut ball back and forth as she likes, or every 1–2 hours.
The uses for the peanut ball don’t stop there! You may even be able to use it to sleep more comfortably in those last weeks of pregnancy.
Birth ball exercises
These exercises are great during pregnancy to help prepare your body, as well as during labor to support your body through the process.
Sit on the floor with your birth ball against the wall and your back against the ball. Be sure to sit up straight. Pull your abdomen in, and curve your lower back slightly, pushing it into the ball. Repeat to strengthen your lower back and help support your uterus.
Sit on the ball with feet firmly planted on the ground. Place your hands on your hips and do large circles, as if you’re a hula dancer.
Simply bouncing on the ball may help to give the counter pressure you need during labor. During pregnancy, this one strengthens your legs and ability to balance.
Resting child’s pose
Kneel in front on the ball and bend forward into child’s pose, but use the ball to relax on instead of going all the way to the floor. (see image above)
Resting frog squat
Squat behind the ball. Lean forward on the ball while your feet are together, and move your knees apart like a frog.
Using a birth ball after delivery
There is no shortage of uses for a birth ball after delivery. In the early days, when baby is crying and you just need to keep moving to soothe him, your ball can be a life saver. Many a mom or dad has gently bounced on a birth ball to soothe an infant in their arms. (This was Paloma’s favorite way to fall asleep!)
You can also use at a desk instead of a chair in your home office (or even at work). Similarly, you can sit on it at night while watching T.V. to support and engage your core.
You can also give it to your older kids to play with. If you choose a burst-resistant one (which you should), you won’t have to worry about them popping it.
And don’t forget about using the birth ball—ahem, exercise ball—for exercise! When you have a new baby in the house, it’s hard to get to the gym (or let’s be honest, even to the shower). You can use the birth ball to sit on while nursing and practice your posture. This also helps strengthen your core so that you can get your belly back into pre-baby shape (or close enough), if that’s your goal.
There are many other exercises you can do with the birth ball too. Some of the best for post-baby tune ups are squats, lunges, and side-laying leg lifts. A backbend over the ball is great for opening up the chest and front of the body (hold off on this though if you’ve had a cesarean).
Buying a high-quality birth ball
One great thing about birth balls is that they are very affordable. When choosing your birth ball, first consider what material you need. If you have a latex allergy, you will obviously need a latex-free ball. Choose a burst-resistant ball that fits your height:
Under 5’4″ –> 55 cm ball
5’4″ – 5’10″ –> 65 cm ball
Over 5’10” –> 75 cm ball
If you are between sizes, go with the size up, and slightly under-inflate it. You want your knees to be just below your hips. Most birth balls are rated for at least 300 lbs (but many go over 1000!).
Click here to see a wide variety of birth balls for sale.
Looking for a peanut ball?
If you are looking for a peanut ball, you will likely be happy with the 40 cm size (especially if you are wanting to put it between your legs). Choose a larger size if you are planning on sitting on it like a regular birth ball rather than lying down with it. Be sure to ask your midwife or doctor if your birth location has a peanut ball as you may not need to buy one.
Birth balls for all!
When it comes to improving your chances of having a natural birth, there’s nothing better than proper exercise and body alignment. A birth ball can give you that and so much more. They are an inexpensive prop that every pregnant mama should have, and every birth center or hospital should provide for a healthier labor and delivery. (And it’s nice to bounce away and feel like a kid again once in a while 🙂 We all need a little more play and fun in our lives!
How about you?
Did you use a birth ball during pregnancy or birth? How about a peanut ball? Share with us below!