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Try a Birthing Ball for Labor

By Kim Wilschek, RN, CCE

Try a Birthing Ball for Labor

What does your exercise, or stability ball, have to do with labor and delivery?

Many women say that the support and flexibility of a ball during birth was their favorite comfort tool.

A birthing ball doesn’t interrupt fetal monitoring and it can be used whether your bag of waters has broken or not. So, go ahead, have a ball with labor!

How the Ball Helps with Labor

    • Freedom to move around: Sit or rock on it on the floor, lean over it on the bed or use it in a tub.
    • Promotes natural rhythm: Rock and sway during labor; shift your weight on it to find a comfortable position, plus getting on and off the ball is easier than a chair.
    • Maintains alignment: As you sit on the ball, your baby stays aligned in your pelvis to work with gravity.
    • Reduces stress: Sit on a warm, moist compress on the ball, which promotes perineal elasticity. Lean over the ball in a ‘hands and knees’ position to reduce stress on your joints.
    • Enlarges your pelvis: Instead of squatting, sit on the ball, which can help enlarge your pelvis by as much as 15% as compared to laying flat or semi-flat.


Use It Right

Balls are used 4 different ways in labor:

    • Sitting: Sit on the ball and sway. Have your partner sit or kneel with you to help support your labor’s rhythm.
    • Kneeling: Put the ball on a bed and drape your arms over it while kneeling to relieve the pressure of labor, especially back pain. Rest or stretch in this position.
    • Leaning: Sit on the ball and lean into your partner’s arms, or place the ball on a bed and lean over it to support your weight, especially during contractions.
    • Squatting: Squat on the floor using the ball for support, or squat onto the ball itself, especially during the pushing stage of labor. Or use the ball as a back brace against a wall: Squat and have your partner hold your hands for additional stability.


Get Started

Pregnancy is a great time to try the ball; just follow these tips:

    • Buy a high grade, durable, medical or sports-grade ball; prices range between $20-$30.
    • Buy the ball pump and pack it in your labor bag. Balls tend to expand and contract; you may need to add more air during labor.
    • Most women need a 65 cm ball. If you’re taller than 5’10” or shorter than 5’2”, purchase a slightly larger or smaller one, respectively.
    • You’ve got the right-sized ball when you inflate the ball so it’s firm but has some ‘give’ to it and when you can sit comfortably with your spine upright and neutral, your feet flat on the ground about a shoulders-width apart.
    • Have someone behind you as a ‘spotter’ when first using the ball, as pregnancy changes your balance.
    • Practice different positions before labor; you’ll have them mastered in no time.

Also read: How to have a good birthing experience

Kim Wilschek, RN, CCE, is a clinical nurse manager in women’s programs and education at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL. She’s also an expert advisor to Health4Mom.org and Healthy Mom&Baby magazine.

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