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.
How to use a Birth Ball?
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 back bend to open your upper chest and shoulders. You might get a gentle adjustment, or spinal alignment.
To Get into Labor Doing vigorous 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.
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. Few women like the ball in very active labor. That’s when it’s hard to sit on anything that presses. 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 women. Other women 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. A peanut ball has an excellent shape for resting a leg when lying on one’s side. The curve of the peanut shape seems to lift and relax thigh muscles leading to the pelvis. Several studies report shorter labors. Use with an epidural or simply while resting in labor.