In labor? Have a ball

An exercise ball can bring all sorts of benefits to pregnancy—possibly even shortening your time in labor.
A birth ball can make it much easier to exercise during pregnancy, and it could also improve your labor experience. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

An exercise ball isn’t something you’d normally think about using during labor, but it can actually be quite useful.

Just make sure you call it a birth ball and not an exercise ball—it’s a better fit! You can find the birth ball in the exercise department of your local sports stores or big box retailers.

And make sure you check the size before grabbing one, because most balls are sized according to your height. Generally, when sitting on the ball, your knees should be a few inches lower than your hips.

Pregnancy

Birth balls can be helpful in labor, but they’re also handy during pregnancy.

If you’ve ever had sciatic pain, when the baby is positioned on your sciatic nerve, you know how uncomfortable that can be. I remember it seemed like I would have to drag my leg along when I walked with the sciatic discomfort with my first baby.

Sitting on the ball can help with this discomfort. I wish I had a birth ball for that pregnancy!

The ball can also be used for light exercise during pregnancy.

You can use it for pelvic tilts as a great strengthening exercise, which also helps prepare for labor. You can do this while sitting on the ball, leaning over the ball or moving the ball side to side or front to back.

You can also do side stretches and practice balancing, safely, while pregnant.

Spinningbabies.com, a website our providers recommend, notes that by sitting on the ball, “The birth ball comforts and strengthens your lower back. Your pelvis is better supported and symmetrical.” The site recommends using the ball instead of chairs whenever possible.

Labor

A birth ball can make a tremendous difference in your experience during labor. A properly sized ball can help you find a more comfortable position and even help shorten labor, making the entire process more efficient.

When you’re more comfortable during labor, it helps you relax and lets everything progress naturally to the birth of your baby.

You can use the ball to position yourself so your pelvis opens wider, allowing gravity to help the baby descend more effectively.

All these things combined can decrease the length of labor.

As far as positioning goes, you can use the ball to sit and sway. You can place the ball on the bed or couch and lean on it slightly, allowing your partner to rub your back. You can also apply heat or cold and do the double-hip squeeze.

You can place the ball on the floor or on the bed and lean over it, slightly using your hands and knees but focusing more on using your upper body. This provides room for the baby to rotate if need be, and it takes a lot of pressure off your spine.

I’ve also seen where the partner sits on the ball while the mom kneels and rests her hands on her partner’s lap. In this way, the partner moves the ball back and forth, side to side, or in circles, and the mom follows without having to do the movement herself. This can be great if mom is tired.

You could also use the ball against a wall and lean back on it as you move down into a squatting position.

Peanut balls

Apart from the round balls, we also have peanut balls that are longer and shaped like a peanut.

This ball is a great option for a mother who had an epidural and is trying to move the baby down.

We can have the mom lay on her side and place the peanut ball between her thighs, then help her move her knees toward her chest. It has been shown that this opening of the pelvis can help bring the baby down quicker.

The other option with the peanut ball: Have mom sit upright and put the peanut ball under just one leg, again opening the pelvis to help bring the baby down.

One study showed moms who used a peanut ball after an epidural trimmed an average of 90 minutes off their labor time. I’ve also heard about it shortening labor time for moms who chose not to have an epidural.

One thing to remember as you use your birth ball during labor: Hang onto it for years to come, because it makes for a great toddler toy!

Did you use a birth ball or peanut ball during pregnancy or labor? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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