Updated: Mar 2, 2021
**Always consult a doctor before using a birthing ball. I am not a medical doctor. This article is for general information. For safety, make sure you have a non slip ball and are near something you can hold on to. Having another person nearby is beneficial as well. **
A birthing ball is basically just a big exercise ball. It's called a birth ball or birthing ball when used by pregnant moms because it is commonly used during labor. Because of the name, a lot of pregnant mothers don't think to get one until it's too late to get all the benefits from it.
Many times it doesn't become apparent you should have bought one until you desperately want to evict the baby from your body and are experiencing prodromal labor. (Prodromal labor occurs when contractions come and go, start and stop with no real cervical change.) Prodromal labor can be incredibly annoying!
This of course made me think of one of my favorite Gilmore Girls clips.
Anyway, I didn't get a ball with my first two pregnancies. I knew birthing balls were very popular during labor (with many hospitals even providing them in the delivery room.) But, I planned on getting an epidural as soon as humanly possible, so I figured I didn't need one. WRONG! I missed out because 1) I didn't know how long you can be in labor before they let you get an epidural 2) you can use a peanut shaped ball in bed and 3) I didn't know how great it can be for pregnancy pains too. Luckily I did get one during my third pregnancy. And, while researching for this article, I also found out the ball can help with postpartum recovery as well!
*Please note, 1) a birthing ball is not a labor inducer, and there are no guarantees in love and labor. 2) Again, always talk to your doctor before starting to use an exercise ball.
Check out these ways a birth ball can help during pregnancy
More than half of women experience some level of back pain while pregnant, usually beginning in the second trimester. Hormones are causing joints and ligaments to loosen at the same time that the body has more weight to support. The change in a woman's center of gravity can also affect posture. All together this can be a recipe for pain. A birthing ball can help alleviate some of that discomfort by strengthening core muscles and getting your spine back into alignment.
Another cause of backpain can be the position of the baby. A ball can help move a baby in a posterior position to an anterior position, and thus also relieve pain. More on that below.
Check out this link from the Mayo Clinic which shows back stretches to relieve back pain, two of which use the birth ball.
Continuing to exercise during pregnancy is generally recommended by just about everyone. I personally am not a huge fan of exercise. And I really find just keeping a walking regimen while pregnant taxing, but I actually enjoyed using the birthing ball. Its mostly stretching type exercises and can be anxiety relieving. Check out this video by Sarah Lavonne on Prenatal Pilates. Again, as always, get your exercises approved by a doctor. If you haven't watched a Sarah Lavonne video, she is excellent. I don't know her personally, but I watched all her videos that were out during my last pregnancy. She was a labor and delivery nurse and now owns a company that helps with birth coaching and Doula services.
Getting Ready for Active Labor
A birthing ball can help move the baby from a posterior position to an anterior position. If a baby is in an anterior position that means their face is facing toward the mother's back. A posterior position, the opposite, can make for a more complicated, longer and less safe delivery. An anterior position, with the baby face facing the moms back, can make labor go faster and more smoothly. A specific type of exercise ball called a peanut ball can help turn the baby into an anterior position. Another benefit of peanut balls are that they can be used in the hospital to change babies position or for pain relief by women who are stuck in bed due to monitoring or an epidural.
Check out this article about peanut balls. (lamaze.org)
Like I said, I needed a birthing ball with my first labor. I was in labor with regular painful contractions, even at 1 cm. Baby was high up, and it took baby 18 hours to come down. A birthing ball can in some cases help get things moving by encouraging the baby to come down. Once the baby is down into position, nestled into the pelvis, the baby's head presses on the cervix to get things going more efficiently. For a study on the benefits of a birthing ball on the length of labor, click below. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/339524626_The_Effectiveness_of_Birth_Ball_During_Pregnancy_in_Length_of_Labor
For more information on how the birthing ball can help "get that baby down and out" watch this Sarah Lavonne video.
Every labor is different, and every person's pain tolerance is different. If you are planning a medication free birth, it is highly recommended to have a plan for pain management. One tool can be a birthing ball. But its not only for those who want to give birth as "naturally" as possible. My first labor was long. I labored for 34 hours. My hospital would not order an epidural until 3cm for a first birth. Then once I got to 3cm, I still had to have an IV put in, a blood test order and other administrative things done before the epidural could be inserted. All in all, I had 18 hours of painful contractions before I had an epidural. If I had used a birthing ball, its possible I wouldn't have had such a long stage of early labor and even if I did, I could have used a birthing ball while laboring at home to ease some of the pain. (I didn't use a birthing ball with my second labor because I started dilating way to early for the baby to come.)
According to lamaze.org, a birth ball allows for a "more restful hands-and-knees/all-fours position during labor. This position can help you better cope with back labor, assist in rotating baby's position to relieve back labor, and give your support person easy access to your back and hips for massage and counter pressure." (lamaze.org)
After giving birth, you may have stiches in the perineum. Sitting on a hard chair or firm couch can be painful. Especially, if you have hemorrhoids too! Sitting an a soft birthing ball can bring some relief. Some moms have recommended deflating the ball just a tiny bit for optimum comfort.
Babies like the ball too! It's a great place for mama to sit and bounce baby. I've even seen pictures of mommies who put babies on the ball for tummy time- obviously always keeping their hands on baby!
Getting back in shape After your doctor has cleared you for exercise, you can begin work out. If you want a tighter stomach, you have to strengthen your core. A birthing ball can help! It may help even with ab separation, also called diastasis recti. Check out this great workout video.
GETTING A BIRTHING BALL
There are several considerations when purchasing a birthing ball. You need the right size. When you purchase the ball, there should be information about the size ball you need for your height. Also make sure it is made of durable material and is not slick and slippery.
Check out his ball on Amazon. I like that this one comes with non slip socks and a book full of information!
Here is a link to a peanut ball.
And, if you are a germ freak like me, here is a cover to take with you if you plan on using a hospital ball. Or, if you want an handy little handle and pocket, check these out.
*As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases