The benefits of a birthing ball

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Everything you should know about the benefits and uses of a birth ball

A woman sitting upright on a birthing ball.

A birthing ball is an air-filled ball similar to the balls used at the gym. They are beneficial in pregnancy, delivery and even after birth. What is a birthing ball? How it can benefit in pregnancy and delivery? How to use it properly? Let's understand.

What is a birthing ball?

These inflatable balls are made of flexible plastic material which makes them resistant to puncture. They are, however, larger than regular gym balls. Additionally, their design allows a user to sit for longer periods without the danger of slipping.

The birthing balls are available in two forms;

  1. Rounded-shaped (round ball)

  2. Peanut-shaped (peanut ball)

Birthing balls are included in pregnancy exercises.

The peanut-shaped balls are broader at the ends and narrower in the middle. A rounded birthing ball is good for sitting, while a peanut-shaped ball can also be used while lying in the bed.

What are the benefits of birthing balls?

These balls are used because they lower the pain and make you feel comfortable. Besides pregnant women, these balls provide labour pain relief during delivery and are also helpful after birth.

Benefits of a birth ball in pregnancy

Towards the end of pregnancy, sitting and getting up from even the most comfortable sofas and mattresses becomes very uncomfortable. Sometimes, you find it almost impossible to get up from bed. Here, the birth balls come to your rescue. It is helpful for pregnant women because;

  • It allows a good body posture which is particularly important in the last weeks of pregnancy when the baby moves to get the right anterior position for delivery. It facilitates the baby's head to achieve the position required for easy delivery.

  • It allows even distribution of the body weight in the upright position. Normally, most of your body weight lies on the spinal cord. Using a birthing ball relieves the spinal pressure and thus reduces the risk of pregnancy niggles and back pain.

  • It provides more comfort when you need to sit longer, e.g., watching TV etc. So, you need to replace your ordinary chair with a birthing ball.

  • It provides a relaxing counter pressure to the thighs and perineum. When you are sitting, your thighs and perineum come under high pressure. The air-filled ball provides a counter pressure besides supporting your knees and ankles.

  • The gentle pressures created by these balls also increase blood flow towards the placenta and baby.

A birthing ball allows you to achieve various body positions.

Various birthing ball exercises have been recommended to help in pregnancy. These include wall squats, ab crunch, ball march, pelvic floor exercises, kneeling ball roll-outs, ball bridges, ball circles, body stretches etc. Take the help of the gym instructor to choose the best exercise for you.

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Benefits during labour

These balls help in all stages of labour. As soon as the labour starts, you can sit on a birthing ball with your legs wide open. This position promotes the blood flow towards the uterus and placenta and helps open up the hips and pelvis. As the air expands, it facilitates the opening of the pelvis.

The birthing balls support you in a bend position during delivery.

A birthing ball also helps you in leaning forward and may help to alter the baby's position which may allow for an easier delivery. For example, a kneeling position while placing your upper body on the ball can help allow easy delivery. It helps your birthing partner by allowing the partner to get closer to you. As your back and thighs are now more accessible in the lean forward position, it also helps if you plan for a massage during delivery.

Does research support these claims?

The studies have found that it is useful for pregnant women enormously.

A 2019 study published in the BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth found that using a birthing ball during the last months of pregnancy provided pain relief, improved control during labour and increased satisfaction during the delivery process. The study was carried out on a large population and the data was collected using questionnaires.

Another research study published in the World Journal of Clinical Cases in 2021 found that using a birth ball in combination with a COOK balloon (to induce labour) improved the cervical opening and shortened the labour time.

How can it help after birth?

An investment in the ball during pregnancy will also help after the baby's delivery.

It soothes and relieves pressure on the perineum while sitting. It is particularly important in the early days after birth because the perineum is still painful. You can slightly deflate the ball (by removing some air) for more comfort. A good posture provided by a birthing ball also helps in breastfeeding. However, you need to position the baby before doing so.

A woman holding a baby while sitting comfortably on a birthing ball.

Bouncing on the inflated ball while holding the baby is enjoyable and relieves the colic in both the baby and the mother. It also provides labour pain relief.

It is also a very good choice for post-pregnancy exercises, as gentle movements on the air-filled ball strengthen the muscles in your tummy and back.

How can you choose a birthing ball for you?

Choosing the right birthing ball depends upon your height and weight. Birth balls are available in a variety of sizes. Some balls need to be inflated before use, while others are already inflated. As a general rule, a good birthing ball allows you to sit comfortably with your feet on the floor.

Your feet should be comfortably on the floor. The ball is too large if your feet are uncomfortable and your toes are touching the floor. Similarly, if the knees are higher than the stomach, you need a bigger ball. The knees should be a few inches lower than thighs.

An optimum-sized ball ensures your comfort.

The manufacturers provide size recommendations. However, as a general rule, a 65cm diameter ball is enough for medium height (5ft 4 inches to 5ft 8 inches). You can add or subtract 10cm from this standard size for below or above this standard respectively.

However, the recommendations of the manufacturers should always be prioritised. Keep in mind to take help while using it for the first time or if you have any difficulty.

The end note

A birthing ball is larger than an ordinary gym ball. It can be helpful during pregnancy, labour and after the baby's delivery. It relieves back pain and pelvic pressure. The birth ball exercises help in easy recovery after birth. However, it can't induce labour. But, choosing a good size for you is necessary to get maximum benefits.

The birthing ball can make your pregnancy a smooth journey.

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