Using the Birth Ball in Labor

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Among the many pain management tools one can use for labor, the birth ball is definitely a must have! The ball is extremely versatile, inexpensive and effective!

Benefits of the Ball
Most women instinctively start to sway or rock when seated or leaning against the ball. This movement helps create a natural rhythm which encourages open, easier breathing. Movement also encourages pelvic mobility which can help move the baby into an optimal birthing position. Also, in many of the positions assumed with the use of the birth ball, the spine and pelvis are in a favorable position to help properly align the baby into a good birthing position and relieve maternal back pressure.

Positions to try!

Leaning over on all-fours

The all-fours position is a popular and favorite position to assume during labor. It takes the pressure off the mother’s back and helps to encourage the baby to stay in a good position. Since labor may last a while, it is a lot more comfortable to spend the time draped over the birth ball than it is to have the palms completely pressed into the floor with pressure on the wrists. This position also slightly angles the torso upward and uses gravity to press the baby’s head downwards against the cervix, which will encourage dilation.

Sitting or Rocking on the Ball
Sitting on the ball helps shift the pelvis into good spinal and pelvic alignment. It is also very easy and comfortable for the mother to rock or circle her hips in a figure 8 position. Sitting on the ball also offers soft support for the perineum at a time when a hard surface may no longer feel good. Try placing a warm compress or towel on the ball when sitting on it. This can help relax the pelvic floor and in general feels nice for the mama. While I could not find any data to support this, it would make sense that the skin and muscles would soften against the application of warm water, just like they do when in the bathtub. This may help prevent tearing if done close to the second stage of labor.

Placed on a bed or table and leaning against it
A similar usage as leaning on the ball on all fours is to put the ball on a bed or couch and have the mother hang over it. While the mother is at rest on the ball, the birth partner may be massaging her back or applying counter pressure, heat or ice. Again, this position promotes a natural swaying and movement of the body, tips the belly forward taking pressure of the lower back and uses gravity to help the move the baby deeper into the pelvis.

Support when squatting
Some mothers find sitting into a low squat very effective in feeling grounded and open during their contractions. (On a side note — squatting also opens the outlet of the pelvis 28% more then if the mother was reclining). With the support of the ball, the mother can lean back and gently rock from side to side as she works through the contraction. This rocking and shifting movement can be helpful in assisting the baby into a good birthing position. Also leaning back against the ball is especially helpful if the mother has a hard time getting her heals down when squatting on her own.

Baddha konasana while leaning forward on the ball
This could be a good position to use the ball if the mother has to stay in bed or has an epidural which limits mobility. In this position, the mother can still rest her weight forward, encouraging an anterior tip of the pelvis (good for keeping baby in an anterior position). The mother can also rock or sway in this position and has her back exposed so her partner can massage her back if she likes.

A Few Tips About Birth Balls

  • If your water breaks, you can still use your birth ball! Just cover it with a chuck pad. (Wee wee pads will do just fine.)
  • Sizing- 65cm for under women under 5 ft 8 inches; 75 cm for over that height.
  • You can get a birth ball or physio ball at most sporting goods stores or even Bed, Bath and Beyond. They are pretty easy to come across.
  • If you are going to use one that belongs to the hospital or birth center you are birthing at, either wash it before using it, wrap it in a hospital gown or put a chuck pad on it. Who knows how often the hospital washes them and you will be coming into close contact with it if you choose to use it.

P.S. The ball is great for postpartum use as well! Babies are often lulled to sleep by the rhythm of a mama or papa holding them and gently rocking or bouncing on the ball.

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*Disclaimer- not meant to take the place of medical advice.

Debra Flashenberg, CD(DONA), LCCE, E-RYT 500 is the director of the Prenatal Yoga Center. She has spent most of her life performing and was introduced to yoga through a choreographer in 1997. After several years as a yoga student, she decided to continue her education and became certified as a Bikram Yoga instructor. After being witness to several “typical” hospital births, Debra felt it was important to move beyond the yoga room and be present in the birthing room. In 2006, Debra received her certification as a Lamaze® Certified Childbirth Educator. In September of 2007, Debra completed a Midwife Assistant Program with Ina May Gaskin, Pamela Hunt and many of the other Farm Midwives at The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. Drawing on her experience as a prenatal yoga teacher, labor support doula and childbirth educator, Debra looks to establish safe and effective classes for pregnancy and beyond. She is the proud (and tired) mother of new baby boy, Shay.

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