What is a birth ball?
A birth ball is simply an exercise ball. The name “birth ball” is used affectionately when used to prepare for, or during labor.
I like birthing balls, too. And though I think standing and doing the abdominal lift and tuck is the best for helping a posterior baby rotate in labor, a birth ball is second to the birth stool for helping rotation while the mother is sitting.
Use a birth ball to sit on instead of a chair. Trade the chair for a birth ball at the computer, at the table and even while watching TV.
Why? The birth ball comforts and strengthens your lower back. Your pelvis is better supported and symmetrical. The pelvis opens a bit, maybe not as much as squatting, but certainly without the effort of squatting (Squatting is good preparation, too). You are 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, but start when you can. How? Sit so that your feet are flat and apart, so that your feet and the center of the ball make a tripod when you sit down on it. 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.
To Get into Labor
Doing circles on the ball can help get the baby’s head on the cervix. If your baby is posterior (you feel little hands wiggling down in front) then don’t do these circles until after ten contractions doing the abdominal lift and tuck.
If your water releases (breaks, rupture of membranes, ROM) and there are no contractions, then these circles on the ball, done smoothly, but actively, perhaps to salsa music, can help bring the head on the cervix and bring on contractions. Do 20 minutes. Change directions periodically during the 20 minutes you do the circles. 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. Belly dancing is another option.
The birth ball can be used to sit on in early labor or the pushing stage. The upward curve of the ball is a nice support during labor. The curve gives a slight counter pressure to the slightly engorged or swollen vulva during labor. It’s just more comfortable than a chair. Use it in the shower if there is also a bar to grasp on the shower wall. Few women like to sit on the ball in 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 way to be in a hands and knees position without straining the wrists.
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 has two trusted people at either side of her. She vigorously rocks side to side. Her support team holds her arms and shoulders to hold her weight when she leans towards them. They prevent her from falling off the bed. It is a vigorous exercise that shifts the asynclitic (the head is tipped as if listening) or posterior baby lower through the pelvis. It may correct the angle of the baby’s head. It will help fetal descent if the reason for lack of descent is an unfavorable angle of the baby’s head.
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 midwives 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!
After the Birth
The ball is great for a parent to sit on while comforting a baby over 2-3 weeks old. A common scene: The baby who is in pain from gas often calms for walking. After a while, a parent’s legs are tired. If a similar rhythm as walking 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. 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. Using a ball to sit on for meals soothes the baby in your arms. Are you getting the idea you will be holding your baby in many situations? It’s so good for growing humans to hold them!! I think I’ll go find a hug right now just thinking about it!