The “birthing ball” is a wonderful comfort tool for pregnancy and labor. It has become standard equipment in many hospitals and birthing centers, and is carried by doulas when they attend births.

The ball was originally developed for physical therapy, and has been used for years by physical therapists in a variety of ways in treating orthopedic and neurological disorders, and also for exercise. For pregnancy and labor, it is versatile, portable, and easy to clean.

Using the ball throughout pregnancy will stimulate postural reflexes and keep the deep supportive muscles of the spine in good working order.The ball has many uses in late pregnancy when sitting can become so uncomfortable and getting up and down from a chair becomes increasingly hard. The pregnant woman can roll up off the ball; it’s much easier than getting out of a normal chair.

In labor, the ball becomes an important tool, and can be used in a variety of positions. Especially in the hospital, where the mom may be attached to a monitor, an IV, and other tethers preventing her from moving around freely, the ball becomes an important alternative to the bed, where movement is significantly restricted. Sitting on the ball encourages a natural swaying or rotating motion of the pelvis, promoting fetal descent. The ball provides perineal support without a lot of pressure and helps keep the fetus aligned in the pelvis. The sitting position assumed on the ball, similar to a squat, opens the pelvis, helping to speed up labor. Gently moving on the ball greatly reduces the pain of contractions. In addition, this sitting position allows the doula or support person to provide massage or counter-pressure to the back of the laboring mom. With the ball placed on the bed, the mother can stand and lean into its softness, encouraging pelvic swaying and mobility. With the ball on the floor or bed, the mother can kneel and lean over the ball, encouraging pelvic motion which can aid a posterior baby in turning to the correct position, thus allowing labor to progress more quickly. This position is wonderful for a mom who is having back labor caused by a posterior position. The mother’s weight is supported entirely by the ball and the doula or support person has excellent access to the mother’s back for massage and counter-pressure.

In a systematic review of studies on maternal position during the second or pushing stage of labor, the Cochrane Collaboration found that either sitting up or lying on the side to push instead of lying on the back resulted in:

1. Shorter second stage of labor . This was largely due to a considerable reduction in women allocated to use of the birth cushion (i.e., birth ball).
2. A small reduction in assisted deliveries (vacuum and forceps).
3. A reduction in episiotomies.
4. A smaller increase in second-degree perineal tears.
5. Increased estimated risk of blood loss > 500ml.
6. Reduced reporting of severe pain during second stage of labor.
7. Fewer abnormal fetal heart rate patterns.
(Citation: Gupta JK , Nikodem VC. Woman’s position during second stage. Cochrane Library)

After the baby comes, the ball provides support without excessive pressure on the perineum. During breastfeeding, it keeps posture correct and gently exercises the mother while nursing. Babies like gently bouncing when the person cuddling them is sitting on a ball. All in all, a “birthing ball” is a great investment that will pay off in many ways!

Midwifeinfo recomends the Gaiam exercise ball. These are the sturdiest and safest balls we could find.  Don’t go for a cheap ball – they can burst if they come into contact with a sharp object and deflate suddenly – not an ideal situation for a pregnant or laboring mom.  The Gaiam ball will deflate slowly if punctured, preventing a fall to the floor.

Gaiam Total Body Balance Ball Kit (55cm)

for those under 5’2″

Gaiam Total Body Balance Ball Kit (65cm) for those 5’2″ and over.