How a birthing ball can help during pregnancy, labor and beyond
You may have walked by them dozens of times at the gym without as much as a second glance, but now that you’re pregnant, birthing balls (which, yes, are the same as exercise or yoga balls) have piqued your interest. What’s the deal with them? And how can you use one to your benefit during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum recovery? Let’s get the ball rolling and find out.
Here are expert tips and advice for using a pregnancy bounce ball before, during and after giving birth.
How can a birthing ball help during pregnancy?
Birthing balls can be used at any point during pregnancy and for different reasons along the way.
Early on, they can alleviate discomfort in your spine, hips and lower back.
“They’re super comfortable,” says Jennifer Mayer, a New York City-based doula and founder of Baby Caravan. “Many of my clients find birthing balls more comfortable than regular chairs during pregnancy, as they can provide relief from a variety of symptoms, including hip and low back pain.”
In some cases, Mayer even advises swapping out your desk chair for a pregnancy ball.
“Birthing balls can be particularly helpful for moms who work at an office desk during the day, and they’re great to use while watching TV during the evening in lieu of the couch — which, yes, can be uncomfortable when you’re pregnant,” Mayer says.
As your pregnancy progresses, the exercise balls can help ready your body for labor and delivery.
“One of the biggest benefits to using a pregnancy ball is that it helps open up your hips to make room for baby to descend into the pelvis,” says Mayer.
Here are are a few pregnancy ball exercises to try — and they can work in labor, as well:
How do I use a birthing ball?
The answer is with caution. Always with caution.
Even if a yoga ball has been part of your fitness routine for years, keep in mind that most women are less coordinated than normal during pregnancy. And if exercise balls are completely new to your repertoire, remember: They’re round!
“Because they’re circular and unsteady, you need to be extra careful when using a birthing ball during pregnancy since you can easily fall off,” says Dr. Sheila Loanzon, an OB-GYN in northern California. “It’s also important to check that your ball is the correct size for your height and weight and is inflated properly.”
Birthing ball safety tips:
Your ball should be firm but have a little give, so you can gently bounce or roll back and forth while sitting.
When it comes to ball size, go by your height. According to Mayer:
Shorter women usually benefit from a 55 cm ball
Medium size women from a 65 cm ball
Tall women from a 75 cm ball
If you’re unsure of what size to get, there are numerous online guides available.
The first few times you use a pregnancy ball, you may want someone nearby to steady you, or back the ball up to the wall or a sofa to give your more stability.
It’s also in your best interest to discuss anything — including using a birthing ball — with your doctor or midwife, because in some instances, they aren’t recommended.
“I would advise against using a birthing ball if your pregnancy is high risk,” says Dr. Donnica Moore, president of Sapphire Women’s Health Group and host of the podcast “In the Ladies Room With Dr. Donnica.”
Will using a pregnancy ball help baby drop or start dilation?
Toward the end of your pregnancy, you’ll probably do just about anything to get the show on the road. While there’s no magic bullet, birthing balls may, in a roundabout way, help get things going.
“There’s no one thing works for everyone, but there is the possibility that bouncing, sitting and stretching on a birthing ball could help open up the pelvis and create more space for baby to drop and naturally engage in preparation for labor,” says Mayer. “That said, not all women will have their baby drop before labor begins, so if this doesn’t happen, don’t be too concerned.”
Mayer also notes that, if your baby does drop, it’s not necessarily an indication of when labor may or may not begin, but instead a natural progression of your pregnancy.
In terms of jump-starting dilation, it’s unlikely a birthing ball will help.
“In order to dilate, the cervix needs to soften, and usually contractions (even light ones) are needed to open the cervix,” Mayer says. “So it’s doubtful a birthing ball will help women to dilate.”
Will using a pregnancy ball help start labor or break my water?
Long walks, pineapples, sex — surely there are a variety of things you’ve been told to do or consume in order to kick-start labor. Ultimately, though, your baby is going to make his or her adorable debut on their terms.
“It's unlikely that bouncing on a birth ball will cause someone's labor to start or water to break,” says Mayer, who advises calling your doctor when you eventually start to feel signs of labor.
And while your birthing ball may not expedite things, the home stretch of your pregnancy is still an ideal time to use it — particularly if you intend on using it during labor.
“If you plan on using your pregnancy ball during labor, I would advise practice using it in the third trimester,” says Moore. “For some women, learning to balance on the ball when they’re heavily front-loaded can be tricky! The biggest complication I would worry about is potential injuries from falling off, so you definitely want to take some time getting used to it.”
How can a birthing ball help during labor?
Birthing balls, which many hospitals units provide, can be used to relieve pain and discomfort during labor through a variety of positions and exercises. The key is finding what’s most comfortable to you.
“Sitting on the ball with your legs open will apply non-painful pressure to the pelvis and on the perineum,” says Loanzon, who advises full-term patients use birthing balls at home to assist with early labor pains before heading to the hospital. “This positioning, along with consistent contractions, can help the fetal head place pressure on the cervix, acting as a wedge to assist with cervical dilation.”
Loanzon also notes that the pressure on the perineum is thought to reduce the sensation of pain by blocking the message to the spinal cord.
Additionally, birthing balls are ideal for women who want to move during labor.
“Pregnancy balls can help support the lower back muscles and the gentle movement may be preferable to sitting in a bed,” Moore says. “Some women also like to kneel in front of the ball, lean over it or rest their head and hands on the ball. The movement may feel like a distraction or even a form of meditation.”
What if I get an epidural?
If you’re planning or need to get an epidural and still want to use a ball, don’t worry — there’s a variation of a birthing ball that can be used in bed.
“A peanut-shaped ball works great for patients with an epidural,” says Loanzon. “The ball is placed between the upper legs while in a side-lying position to assist in opening up the pelvis. This position can encourage the fetal head, which has the smallest diameter into the pelvis, to move into the desired position.”
How do I use a birthing ball postpartum?
One of the perks of having a pregnancy ball taking up space in your home after you’ve already given birth? It can help soothe your baby!
“Using the birth ball after baby is born is my favorite,” Mayer says. “It’s especially great for sitting down on and bouncing baby to sleep. If baby is fussy and fighting sleep, I recommend using a baby carrier and gently bouncing on the ball until baby is asleep. It's easy to do while watching TV for some much-needed distraction or company.”
And, of course, once you get the OK from your health care provider to start exercising again, you can use your birthing ball for various stretches and core-restoration exercises. Because with no sleep and a newborn, you’ll have the time and energy for that, right?