What is a birth ball?


A birth ball is simply an exercise ball repurposed for a pregnant mother’s needs. The name “birth ball” is used affectionately to refer to this specific purpose. A birth ball is second only to a birth stool for helping rotation while the mother is sitting or when standing isn’t an option.

Why should I use one?

The birth ball comforts and strengthens your lower back. Your pelvis is better supported and symmetrical as well. The pelvis opens a bit, perhaps not as much as squatting, but certainly without the same level of effort.

You will be able to sit upright comfortably after only a few tries with the ball. Sitting upright helps the abdomen be a “hammock” for the baby and encourages the baby to settle in an anterior position when the mother’s ligaments and fascia are balanced and she hasn’t waited too long. Start before pregnancy if you can.

How does it work?

Sit with your feet flat and apart, so that your feet and the center of the ball make a tripod when you sit down. The ball should be firm and big enough so that your hips are equal or higher than your knees. Use a birth ball to help you do a gentle backbend to open your upper chest and shoulders. You might get a gentle adjustment or spinal alignment as well.

When can I use a birth ball?

There are seemingly endless times and ways that a birth ball can be used during pregnancy. The following are a few examples.

In any stage of pregnancy

Use a birth ball instead of a chair when sitting. Trade the chair in for a birth ball at the computer, at the dinner table, and even while watching TV.

To get into labor

Doing circles on the ball can help get the baby’s head on the cervix. If your baby is posterior, then don’t do these circles until after ten contractions doing the abdominal lift and tuck.

If your water releases and there are no contractions, then doing these circles on the ball, done smoothly but actively (perhaps to salsa music), can help put the head on the cervix and bring on contractions. Do these circles for 20 minutes, changing directions periodically. Alternate abdominal lifts with circles on the ball once contractions begin if the contractions are not yet 3-4 minutes apart and it’s not time to sleep.


In labor

The birth ball can be used to sit on in early labor. The upward curve of the ball is a nice support, and gives a good counter pressure to the slightly engorged or swollen vulva during labor. It’s also more comfortable than a chair.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Use it in the shower if there is a bar to grasp on the shower wall.
  • Some women even like to sit on the ball during a very active labor.
  • The ball can be a mobile support for the mother’s upper body when she is kneeling and leaning forward in labor. This position on the ball makes it easy to rock forward and back during contractions, which soothes many birth givers.
  • Others like to rock side to side or even make gentle circles to calm themselves and rock their bodies during contractions. It’s a great way to be in a hands and knees position without straining the wrists.
When you need help to progress a labor but the mother can’t stand or get out of bed

Obstetrician Diane Peterson taught me this one. The mother sits on the birthing bed and bends her knees and touches the soles of her feet together. The birth ball is placed in the space between her knees and she leans forward to hug the ball. The foot of the birthing bed can be lowered a little to make this more comfortable.

Now she needs two trusted people at either side of her. She vigorously rocks side to side. Her support team grabs her arms and shoulders to hold her weight when she leans towards them, to prevent her from falling off the bed.

It is a vigorous exercise that shifts the asynclitic or posterior baby lower through the pelvis. It may correct the angle of the baby’s head as well. It will even help fetal descent if the reason for the lack of descent is due to an unfavorable angle of the baby’s head.

ball workshop epidural

For pushing

One woman I helped as a doula wanted to sit on the ball while she pushed. She didn’t want to be in bed or stand or sit on a birthing stool.

Her midwife was a little concerned about a repeat shoulder dystocia, but when the time came for the baby to emerge, the mother just angled her pelvis forward while I held her from behind and the baby slipped into the midwife’s hands. I realize now that she did a posterior pelvic tilt when flipping her hips towards the midwife, which is a nice “shoulder-release” position!

Ball H&Knees

After the birth

The ball is great for a parent to sit on while comforting a baby at least 2-3 weeks old. Make sure you are comfortable sitting on the ball and are able to get on and off without losing your balance before you try sitting down on a ball with a baby in your arms.

Here’s a common scene: The baby, who is in pain from gas, often calms down with a little walking. After a while, a parent’s legs will grow tired. If a similar walking rhythm can be imitated on the ball, the parent can sit while holding the baby upright over their shoulder and soothe the baby while resting their own legs.

It’s so good for growing humans to be held!

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