Y ou know those exercise balls you see people at the gym using? That Mama, is a birthing ball, also known as a pregnancy ball, yoga ball for pregnancy, or labor ball. Birthing balls have been around for decades after Aquilino Cosani, an Italian plastics manufacturer, came out with it in 1963. Now, you may be wondering what exactly is the difference between an exercise ball and a birthing ball? Technically, they are the same thing and both made out of PVC, only a birthing ball is typically made of thicker, anti-burst eco friendly material. If punctured, you’ll want a ball that deflates slowly rather than a “pop” to ensure you and baby stay safe. Exercise balls are also usually a bit smaller than a birthing ball, you will want to be sure you’re choosing the correct size. Check out my other guide what size birthing ball should you choose when on the hunt for the perfect ball. A pregnancy ball has a range of benefits for pregnant and postpartum mothers, I will go over exactly how a birthing ball helps and what they are used for below!
Birthing Balls (Pregnancy Ball) Explained
What Is A Birthing Ball?
What Is A Birthing Ball Used For?
OK, so you know what a birthing ball is, but what the heck are they used for? Birthing balls have a wide variety of benefits if used during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. The earlier you begin using one (usually around the second trimester) the better. Here’s a breakdown of how they’re used during the different stages.
During pregnancy both pelvic and back pain are common amongst women, especially during the second and third trimester. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the average/safe amount of weight to gain during pregnancy is below:
Average: (BMI of 18.5-24.9: 25-35 lbs)
Overweight: (BMI of 25-29: 15-25 lbs)
Underweight: (BMI of 18.5 or less: 28-40 lbs)
That’s a lot of extra weight mama may be carrying around in turn causing crushing back pain. Are you experiencing some of that oh so lovely pelvic pain too? Some of the most common are growths spurts of both your fetus and uterus, pressure from your baby’s weight, and the release of the hormone relaxin, which softens your ligaments. Using a birthing ball to ease these discomforts and pain is recommended by many doulas, midwives and doctors. Not only will it strengthen your back, but also increases blood flow to the uterus and can reduce the likelihood of needing an epidural or c-section. Now, not to worry, if you’re planning on getting an epidural (no judgement here mama) you can still use a pregnancy ball in the early stages of labor. It is also suggested that if you sit at a desk all day, swap out your chair for your birthing ball if possible. This will not only help with the crappy posture most of us develop over time, but alleviate any discomforts or pain you may be enduring. You can even do it while folding laundry and watching TV, 2 birds one stone!
Let’s face it, labor isn’t the most pleasant for some. Personally, I was ready to give up after 22 hours of intense pain and 3 hours of pushing that felt like a gosh darn eternity! Using a labor ball was one of the only things that seemed to help, minus the epidural which put me on cloud 9 before it began to ware off.
Pregnancy balls have become very popular over the years, especially in the delivery room. Many hospitals and birthing centers even provide pregnancy balls for mom’s to be. Whatever your birth plan may be, using a birthing ball during labor can benefit you in several ways. It’s not only known to relive stress and anxiety, but also opens up the pelvic floor preparing your body for birth. This can help baby settle into an optimal position. There are a variety of positions you may try out such as the “rocking motion”, moving your hips from side to side while sitting on the ball. If your laboring on all fours, using the ball as a support (placing your arms on it with your head down) has shown to be more comfortable for some moms. Some studies have even shown using a labor ball during pregnancy and labor can shorten a woman’s labor. Um, yes please! A study conducted in 2015 consisted of 200 laboring women. Randomly, 107 women were assigned to use the pregnancy ball and 93 did not. During the first stage of labor, the women who used the pregnancy had a shorter labor of 90 minutes. The difference with the second stage of labor was 22.3 minutes. That’s a total of 112 minutes! Are you convinced yet?
So you’ve used your birthing ball during you pregnancy and labor, now what? Good news, you can still put it to use! Your “birth ball” has now graduated to an “exercise ball”. You’ll want to wait for doc to give you the go ahead on working out (usually about 6 weeks postpartum). Let’s face it, having a newborn is beyond tough and finding time to drink a hot cup of coffee is almost impossible (nows the time to invest in a Yeti mug).
Get in a routine with your baby first. When your baby goes down for a nap, squeeze in a mini workout right in your living room. You can perform simple yet effective exercises using the ball, to strengthen your core, back muscles and flexibility. Not only can the exercise ball lead you on the road to getting your pre-baby body back, but you can also use it while feeding or to calm your fussy baby. Of course, be sure you are balanced and having someone in the room with you the first couple times is recommended until you feel comfortable. Sitting on the birthing ball rather than a chair may also be more bearable for those first few weeks. Let’s face it, sneezing or letting out a soft chuckle makes you cringe. Whether you’ve had a cesarean or vaginal birth those first couple days/weeks are HARSH. Sitting on the pregnancy ball will relieve some of that pressure off your abdomen or vagina.
When Should You Start Using A Birthing Ball?
There's No Time Like Today
Yes, we now know we can use it during pregnancy, labor and postpartum but what week do you decide to start using it while pregnant? Really, you can begin using a pregnancy ball whenever you want. Morning sickness and exhaustion are some of the many ‘side effects’ pregnant women experience during the first trimester of pregnancy. The last thing you’ll want to do is sit your butt on a ball and start bouncing around. Usually around the second trimester, or even later (around 32 weeks) is when women will begin really utilizing their ball. Listening to your body can be the best deciding factor on when you’ll want to whip it out and start bouncing! If you’re experiencing any back aches, or pelvic pain, now just might be the time. Of course, consult with your doctor prior to using a pregnancy ball to ensure it is safe for you and baby. During my research I wanted the facts. How well do these things work? When did women start using them? This is what I found:
In an 2019 study from International Journal of Women’s Health and Reproduction Sciences, showed how effective and beneficial using a birthing ball during pregnancy was. A total of 114 women were divided into two groups (one using the birthing ball and the other group did not). The women using the birth ball were 29 weeks gestation and up. The exercises performed were:
- Sitting straddle on the ball
- Rocking the pelvis forward and backward with shoulders still (4 times)
- Rocking the pelvis from left to right with shoulders still (4 times)
- Rotating the hips clockwise then anti clockwise (4 times)
- Swaying of the hips (4 times)
The final results showed the women who used the pregnancy ball consistently showed a higher percentage of fetus with flexed attitude (meaning baby was in the optimal fetal position) as compared to the group who did not used the ball. Additionally, 49.1% of the women in the intervention group (women who used the ball), indicated longitudinal lie compared to 29.8% of those in the control group.
Lastly, 56 out of the 57 women who used the pregnancy ball showed head presentation (baby is head first) whereas 45 of the 57 women not using the ball showed the same presentation. “Overall, it is suggested that pelvic rocking exercises using the birth balls are useful for maintaining lies, fetal attitudes, and presentations and thus it is worth recommending for pregnant women” concluded Supriatiningsih. .
What Is The Best Birthing Ball?
The Best Birthing Ball Brand:
Searching for the best pregnancy ball can be overwhelming with all the different options on the market today. You’ll want to make sure you find a durable and safe option for you and your baby. Most yoga balls, exercise balls and birthing balls are made from a product called PVC (Polyvinyl chloride). PVC contains certain chemicals that can be harmful to humans (BPA and phthalates). When looking for a ball, you’ll want one that is 16P free PVC as these products will not contain the harmful chemicals. Keeping mama and baby safe during and after your pregnancy is #1! Size is also very important. As stated above you’ll want to follow these general guidelines depending on your height:
5’8 or shorter: 65cm
5’9 or taller 75cm
Now the length of your legs will play a role in this as well. If you have longer legs but are 5’8 you may want to go with the 75cm, but overall the above suggestions is what you will want to go with when choosing the correct size. Durability is also very important. You will not want to choose just a regular yoga ball made of cheap material as most of these do not have a slow release of air, if for any reason it were to pop. The thicker the material the better. It may take a little more effort to inflate to the desired size with the thick material, but it is worth it. Like I said, there are so many options out there. The Birth Ball is made from the thickest bpa and phthalates free (16p) PVC available. It also comes with an 18 page exercise booklet, non slip socks, an air pump and transportable bag to bring with you when your little one signals, “i’m on the way”!
A birthing ball has a wide variety of benefits during pregnancy, labor and postpartum. Being as comfortable as possible during the different stages of pregnancy and labor can be difficult. It has been shown with woman all across the world that birthing balls have decreased back/pelvic pain during pregnancy, had shorter labors, and were able to utilize it postpartum. So what are you waiting for? Get the ball rolling and buy yours today!