Birth balls are a great tool for your pregnancy, labor and even for newborn care. Just another name for the exercise ball you may already have at your house, the big round birth balls are good to sit on, lean on and bounce on and can be used to facilitate labor progress.
Here are a few tried-and-true uses for birth balls, plus a few less well-known tricks. I’ll also introduce you to a newer kind of birth ball which is gaining popularity.
1. During pregnancy
Any time during pregnancy, and even before pregnancy, sitting on the birth ball will strengthen your lower back, encourage the opening of your pelvis and support overall alignment. Each of these things help labor and delivery to go more smoothly.
2. Birth balls during labor
At triage in the hospital, putting the birth ball onto the bed while standing and leaning on it rather than lying down for the initial monitoring can make for a more comfortable wait.
Sitting on the birth ball and rocking your hips or making circles will encourage labor to progress. Have a support person in front of you, behind, or both, can give you options for leaning and support during contractions and for resting in between them. You can also use the birth ball for support on the bed as you lean forward from a kneeling or sitting position.
3. Laboring with an epidural
When a woman is given an epidural, she can’t stand up. (Although some hospitals offer “walking epidurals,” none of the hospitals in the Ann Arbor area do.) This restriction of movement can be detrimental to labor progress unless the laboring woman is helped to change positions often. It’s also important (and challenging) to help her find positions which help to keep the hips open.
Peanut balls are a newer addition to labor support, although the idea of helping to keep the hips open isn’t! Peanut balls are shaped a bit like their namesakes–they are more oblong than round and have an indent at the middle that allow it to fit between a woman’s legs when she is lying down.
Research is showing that using a peanut ball can reduce the length of labor for women with epidural anaesthesia. Some hospitals are beginning to keep peanut balls, but not all have them.
4. Comforting newborns
In utero, babies get used to the motion of their mother’s bodies. Newborn babies’ vestibular systems cause them to feel comforted by motion. For parents whose babies need that motion to go to sleep, sitting and bouncing gently on the birth ball sometimes works wonders and gives an alternative to walking around with baby.
If you take a hospital tour, you can ask whether they have birth balls available, and what size and shape they are. If you have a birth ball at home, you can bring it with you to your birth if would like.
If you don’t own a birth ball, you can choose one using the size guide below. You can purchase birth balls from sporting goods stores, physical therapy suppliers, or doula suppliers. Choose balls which are rated “anti-burst.”
Birth balls come in several sizes. According to YourDoulaBag.com, here are best ball sizes for different heights:
User’s Height & Ball Size
4′ 8″ – 5′ 2″ >> 55 cm
5′ 3″ – 6′ >> 65 cm
over 6′ >> 75 cm