As a doula, one question I get asked a lot is “What are your favorite tools to use in labor?”
One super easy answer to that is balls!
Exercise balls (sometimes referred to as birth or labor balls) are a great and common tool seen in the birth room. But why?
Used properly, exercise balls can be a great source of relieving discomfort, providing a safe way to gently stretch and helping to improve posture and core strength - all things that are great for you whether you’re pregnant or not. When your body feels better, your mood improves, and that makes for an overall more pleasant pregnancy experience. So how can these exercise balls be used to support you in labor?
First, let’s talk about how versatile this tool is for pregnancy!
Not only can you use it during labor, the exercise ball can also be used to do gentle, effective exercises during pregnancy that will help you feel stronger and keep those positive endorphins coming. It also doubles as a great place to sit and work out any pregnancy-related kinks in your hips and/or back while watching television or doing desk work, and will help keep you sitting in the best seated position during pregnancy. Keeping a healthy pregnancy in mind can ultimately lead to a better birthing experience, and becoming familiar with the ball early on will set the tone for use during labor.
Using the Exercise Ball in Late Pregnancy and Early Labor
The ball can be used during the last month or so to help open up the hips by rocking side to side, front to back, or best of all, in a big figure 8. Opening the hips is a great way to encourage your baby to engage the cervix, which will help with effacement and dilation later in the game. For those that feel pressure in their bottoms (and let me tell you, it’s a lot more common than we hear about), the gentle counter pressure from the ball can be a welcome relief.
Exercise Balls During Active Labor
In labor, the ball serves to continue opening up the hips, engaging the baby, allowing for gentle movement and rocking through contractions. Other options during labor include using the ball to lean on (think of a nice hug) while on all fours, which provides relief to the wrists as well as a soft surface to sink into and move with (both on the floor and on the bed), and kneeling, using the ball to balance and move around as needed. Both of these positions will allow your support person or doula to provide counter pressure comfort measures to double the relief and benefits.
Typically the ball isn’t used in a sitting capacity during late stage labor, as the pressure from engaging baby more can be a little too intense and uncomfortable, but it can still provide a great surface to hug and lean against during pushing.
Using the Ball During Postpartum
The benefits of the ball doesn’t stop once the baby is here!In addition to postpartum exercises meant to re-strengthen your core post baby (once your provider clears you to work out, that is!), the ball can be a great and comfortable place to sit while feeding or soothing your baby. Gentle bouncing and rocking mimics the movements in the womb, which will sometimes soothe a fussy baby, especially as they acclimate to life in the outside world.
Tips for finding the right ball:
- Make sure it's sturdy and good quality material - this is one place you definitely want quality over price. A firm ball is a good ball!
- All balls are not created equal! Check that your ball is the correct size for your height. If you carry a little more weight, don't hesitate to go up a size.
- Make sure you can assume the proper posture, comfort and over all positioning. Feet should easily be flat on the floor, weight should be distributed evenly, and the knees should not be too far above the pelvis. If that occurs, consider the next size up.