Using a birth ball
What is a birthing ball?
A birth ball is a slightly larger version of a gym ball that you can use to exercise, sit comfortably and practise positions for labour.
Why use a birthing ball?
Moving around can get a little harder as your pregnancy progresses. A birthing ball can feel much more comfortable to sit on than desk chairs or sofas. It can also make it easier for you to get on and off.
Exercise and pain relief
Using your birthing ball can also improve your posture and balance and exercise your tummy muscles. As you rock or bounce on it gently, your tummy and back muscles will be working hard to keep you upright.
A birth ball can also help to distribute your weight more evenly. This can relieve spinal pressure and back pain, and provide support for your knees and ankles.
“I suffered with ligament pains from the second trimester, and sitting our plush sofa felt less comfortable than you’d imagine! When my birthing ball arrived, and I sat on it for the first time, I could feel the pressure come away from my hips, back, and knees. It was such a relief!
In the moments when my baby was kicking into my stomach – causing a lot of acid reflux - and pushing up into my chest which made breathing more laboured, kneeling over the birth ball let me stretch my body out and get oxygen into my lungs, taking the pressure off my chest. It felt nice to breathe again and not have to reach for the antacids so often!”
Flo – Mum of one
Using a birth ball in the later stages of pregnancy is great for getting your baby into the correct position for birth.
"Birth Balls are a brilliant way of your keeping hips and your pelvis flexible and supple thorough pregnancy. They are also fantastic in all stages of labour too – from helping to open up the pelvis and create space, to supporting you in swaying and moving to help baby drop down ready for birth.
"Start using your birth ball in pregnancy – as an alternative to your desk chair or for exercise so you can work out what feels right for you."
Amina - Tommy's Midwife
You can also use a birthing ball to help you during labour (as long as you’ve been using it during pregnancy so you feel comfortable and safe using it).
During labour, a birthing ball can reduce the pain of your contractions. You may find you instinctively sway and rock in rhythm with your contractions and a birthing ball gives great support for this.
It can also help you maintain upright positions, which lets gravity take some effect. Sitting on the ball with your legs wide apart can help open your pelvis ready for birth.
What is a peanut birth ball?
A peanut-shaped birth ball is effectively the same thing, just a peanut shape. They’re used during labour when mum needs to remain in the bed, for example, when getting an epidural.
The peanut shape allows you to lift one leg in a seated or laid down position.
Read more about the benefits and uses of a peanut ball here.
When can I use a birth ball?
You can start using a birth ball at any stage of your pregnancy, but from around 32 weeks you can use some gentle exercises to help with aches, pains, and getting your baby in to the correct position. If you don’t find birth ball exercises comfortable or helpful, ask your partner, a friend, or your midwife to help you make sure you’re in the right position.
Top tips for using a birth ball
- You’ll have more stability using your birth ball on a carpeted floor than a smooth one.
- Go barefoot if you can. If not, make sure you’re wearing non-slip shoes or socks.
- Place your feet flat and far apart (60cm/45 inch) on the floor, ensuring your knees are lower than your hips.
- Once you’ve become more used to your birthing ball, use it more and more further into the later stages of your pregnancy. At your desk while you work may be a good place to start!
“I swapped my office chair for my birth ball as I was working from home during lockdown. It kept my colleagues amused as I’d be bobbing up and down through our otherwise boring zoom meetings!”
Flo – Mum of one
How to get your hips moving
- Side to side – this stretches out any tightness and tension in your back and hips.
- Figure of 8 – this relieves lower back pain and helps move baby’s head down into the pelvic area.
- Circular motion – this can help baby get into the right position during labour.
You can adopt various positions whilst in labour
- Sit and rock your pelvis side to side, or forwards and backwards.
- Leaning on your birth ball from a kneeling position.
- Hugging the ball and raising your bottom up from kneeling position, rocking pelvis from side to side.
- Leaning over your birth ball from standing position with the ball placed on a higher surface.
Mat and gym ball exercises with pregnancy related Pelvic Girdle Pain
What to consider when buying your birth ball
Buy the right size for your height. Your knees should be about 10cm (4in) lower than your hips when you sit on it.
- If you're up to 1.73m (5ft 8in) in height, get a 65cm ball.
- If you're taller than 1.73m (5ft 8in), get a 75cm ball.
Birthing balls can take any weight, regardless of your size. Good quality birthing balls are pressure-tested to support weights up to 300kg (about 47st).
You’re not done yet! If you have a vaginal birth, it’s common to feel pain or pressure between the vagina and anus and sitting down may cause some discomfort. To help with the pain, slightly deflate the ball to make it softer to sit on.
- If your waters break or fluids are spilled anywhere near your birth ball, refrain from getting on it until the area is cleared from liquids to avoid slipping.
- Most birth balls are anti-burst, which means if they’re punctured, they will deflate slowly instead of burst. Still, try to keep sharp objects away.
- Pace yourself, and don’t rush to move until you feel balanced.
- Make sure you talk to your midwife before you use a birth ball.