Ah – the ubiquitous birthing ball, seen everywhere from gyms to birth educator’s homes. We’ve had one (sometimes two) in our house for years. We used them initially for pregnancy and labor but now they’re used either as toys or seats. They’re useful before pregnancy, during and well after too!
The birthing ball exists under a bunch of different names. They can be called exercise ball, yoga ball, Swiss ball, pregnancy ball, Pilates ball, gym ball, and more. They’re all the same thing, just marketed a little bit differently. If you’re on the lookout for one, don’t worry about what it’s called and just get one that gets good reviews.
So what exactly is a birthing ball for?
Relief , comfort & relaxation. They can help relieve pelvic discomfort & pressure by opening the pelvis and balancing the ligaments, tendons & muscles.
They can relieve lower back pain too. She can sit on it (on a non-slip surface), which will distribute her weight evenly on her hips and align her spine. She can also lean on it on ‘all fours’, letting it support her upper body and taking stress off her back. Both of those exercises, shown in the video below, are great for relieving non-pregnancy back aches too 😉
Just sitting, leaning on, bouncing on, rocking on them or doing figure eights can be relaxing too. It’s good to have options, when the pregnant mama’s having trouble getting comfortable.
Encouraging optimal fetal positioning. Ideally, the baby should be head down, facing mom’s back. This allows the baby’s chin to be tucked into her chest, letting the smallest part of her head come out first. Sitting & rocking on a birth ball can help this happen. The open pelvis, balanced ligaments etc and evenly distributed weight can help the baby settle into an optimal position.
Inducing labor. This is like the next level of optimal fetal positioning. When the baby is ready to be born, the same exercises that help it get into the right position can help it move lower into the birth canal, put pressure on the cervix – and kickstart labor.
Here are a few exercises that are good for both encouraging fetal positioning and inducing labor naturally:
You know what else can induce labor? Sex. So when the time is right, get busy! (Sorry, dad jokes are inevitable at this point…)
Relief, comfort & relaxation during labor. Yep – all the same exercises are super-useful during labor too. They can be more comfortable than a chair. Rhythmic rocking and swaying can help her get through contractions. Sitting or leaning on them exposes her back for massages from you. They can be leaned on for support during contractions OR when pushing the baby out.
You should be sold on birthing balls at this point. If they could only cook and put the baby down for a nap, they’d be the most perfect thing ever.
Choosing the birthing ball size
Guess what? The taller she is, the bigger ball she needs:
- 55 cm ball if she’s under 5’4″
- 65 cm ball if she’s between 5’4″ – 5’10″
- 75 cm ball if she’s over 5’10”
Obviously if you’re going to use it too and there’s a big discrepancy between your heights, you’ll need your own ball.
IMPORTANT: When she sits on the birthing ball, her hips need to be higher than her knees. If her hips are lower than her knees then the ball is too small. This is important because it prevents the spine from extending, making it rounded . This can cause a backache AND prevent the baby from moving into an optimal position. So make sure the ball is the right size!
You can get the perfect one here (referral link) and be sure to get a pump if it doesn’t come with one.
The peanut ball
One last thing – there’s a variant of the birthing ball that comes in a peanut shaped. Surprisingly, it’s called a peanut ball. It has a few different uses than the typical birthing ball. It can be straddled for better balance, put under the knees to raise the legs, used like a body pillow, and more. Trish really wanted one back in the day but they were hard to find. Nowadays, they’re freely available online, she recommends checking them out.