Everything you Need to Know About Birth Balls

Mom with baby sitting on an exercise ball

I’m sure you’ve seen a picture of a woman in labor sitting on a exercise ball.

I’m also sure that you’ve wondered why?!

Well, today we are going to be discussing the ins and outs of birth balls -from why they are used to how they are used.

What is a Birth Ball?

First of all, it’s nothing ‘special’ or different from an exercise ball - the kind you can pick up on Amazon or at your local Target. 

Its purpose is just different, in that we’re using it as a tool for proper posture, support and relaxation in labor. 

In my first birth, the ball was all I knew about and all that I used. And, truthfully, it wasn’t all that helpful because it was the first time I’d sat on one, and sitting on it was all that I did to prepare myself for comfort. 
— Heather Delaney - CEO of Maryland State Doulas

Using a birth ball during pregnancy

Sitting on a ball at the ending stages of your third trimester helps to correct and support your posture and pelvic floor to keep ligaments nice and loose as your body prepares for labor. We tend to sit in a hammock position on couches, beds, and in the car. Add in texting and hunching over a desk all day and our spine’s curvature, and the support for our pelvis, have a hard time. 

Sitting on a ball or the floor helps keep everything loose, aligned and happy. 

Using a birth ball during labor

  • In labor, a birth ball can be used to sit on and keep the hips open, taking away strain from other parts of the body that are hurting. 

Sitting on a birth ball during labor while leaning over a bed
  • You can also lean forward over a ball to get some rest and still keep your hips wide open during the times that active labor is intensifying.  This is especially useful when it no longer feels good to sit down on your pelvic floor, as baby is descending! (You also won’t have to worry about rolling off the ball this way!) 

Leaning over birth ball during labor
  • The ball can also be placed in the shower to sit on while letting the water run down your back for some relief. 

Using a birth ball after pregnancy

  • Sitting on a birth ball while breastfeeding can help you maintain a good posture.

  • Bouncing with newborn can help soothe crying and fussiness.

Doula demonstrating how to breastfeed on a birth ball

Do you NEED a birth ball?

Definitely not. A birth ball is nice to have on hand - and many hospitals have them handy. It can be great to have nearby, but its benefit can also be matched by positional changes in the bed and around the house.

NOTE: Our doulas have encountered some hospitals which don’t have pumps, or only have small sized balls. Ask in your prenatal visits with your birth provider what is on hand at the hospital, and prepare accordingly.

If you’re looking for the greatest perks of the ball, have one at home for pregnancy comfort vs. labor support.

Picking out a Birth Ball

Next item of business: all birth balls were not created equal.

There are sizes!

Learning how to use a birth ball during one of our childbirth classes

Birth balls come in 55 CM, 65 CM and 75 CM sizes. To find the right size for you, when you sit on the ball fully inflated, your knees should be at a 90 degree angle. A ball too big or small will force you to overcompensate your posture, which is the opposite of the intention! 

If you’re not sure what size to go with, and are average height, a 65 CM ball should work well for you. In a pinch, a ball too big can be deflated to a more appropriate size. 

Tips for Using a Birth Ball

  • If you’re using the ball on the floor in the hospital, place clean chux pads or sheets underneath and on top.

  • Always assist Mom in getting onto and off of the ball.

  • Feet should always remain on the floor, so that Mom has control of her body during contractions.

  • It’s always a good idea, if you’re planning on using a ball in labor, to use one in the weeks prior so that the motion and seated position is familiar to your body! 

Want to see a ball in action?

Ask your doula!

A birth ball is one of the many tools that we discuss during both childbirth education classes and our comfort measures prenatal sessions with doula clients. We will help you to understand how it can be utilized in practice for the best assistance.