Birth Balls
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Birth Ball Uses and Care

A birth ball is actually a professional physiotherapy ball originally designed for use in low impact and strengthening exercises. Their use spread to the benefits of helping women during pregnancy as an excellent exercise tool for non-impact workouts and birth which we will outline below. Please note that the information covered is with the use of a professional ball, not the toy balls found in the children’s section.

Finding the Correct Size

Typically, a 65 cm ball fits most women over the height of 5’5" and a 55 cm ball fits most women under this height. To check for "fit", when sitting on the ball, legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle. If you have the correct ball for your height, just add or let out air as needed to achieve the correct size. The ball should be inflated until it is firm but still gives to touch and should roll easily. It will lose air over time, so add air as needed to maintain the correct size.

Care of Your Birth Ball

Birth Balls are incredibly easy to care for… unless you have children who love it too (and most do!). With that in mind, keep sharp objects away from the ball and do not store in temperatures warmer than 80ºF or 28ºC. Avoid keeping for extended lengths in a hot car as it will both expand and deteriorate faster. NEVER patch a birth ball! If you do happen to puncture your ball, no patch will suffice and it will not be able to support the weight it was designed for. A professional birth ball will hold over 300 lbs or 136 kg, check for weight recommendations before purchasing.

For personal use, cleaning is easy with soap and water. Simply set ball in tub or shower, wipe clean with a soapy cloth and rinse.

To disinfect, use a weak (10%) bleach solution and using rubber gloves, wipe the ball with the solution and wait 12-15 minutes, then rinse with a hose or in the shower, or wipe with a clean cloth and clear water. If possible, disinfect in a well ventilated area. A simpler suggestion is to simply spray with germicidal surface cleaner, let stand as recommended and rinse.

We recommend disinfecting between clients. A good idea is to do this before you bring the ball home from the hospital (after a birth), as you will not be bringing the hospital germs home to your house with you.

Using Your Birth Ball 

Prenatally and During Labour

When first sitting on your ball, hold it with your hands as you sit down, keeping your feet about two feet apart and flat on the floor. If you are concerned about feeling stable, have someone hold it for you as you sit down. Get used to moving on it when you are comfortable. Holding the sides with your hands, slowly roll your hips from side to side or in a circular motion to get the feel of it. Bouncing on it is also fun! When you decide to get off, notice how much easier it is to get up in comparison to off a couch. For pregnant women, this is a huge bonus!

The two main positions that labouring women choose on the birth ball are sitting and leaning. Sitting, described above, makes excellent posture a must as it is difficult to slouch without falling off. If used prenatally, regular use of the birth ball (sitting on it while watching TV and other activities in which you would normally sit on a chair, like reading this website) will strengthen lower back and lower abdominal muscles. This is quite beneficial for easing or eliminating the lower back pain common in late pregnancy and great for the work of pushing out your baby during labour. Sitting on the Birth Ball is also beneficial in alleviating hemorrhoid discomfort due to the gentle pressure of the ball. Good posture, which allows extra room for baby, is good for mom and comfortable as well. In allowing baby the extra room, your baby is allowed to obtain and then maintain an anterior position in the womb which is the preferred position for baby. In this position, baby’s back is to your front which allows baby to engage and apply even pressure on your cervix, thus making labour faster, easier and less painful. For more information on good positioning, please check our two online articles Posterior Presentation: A Pain in the Back and Posterior Positioning – Signs and Symptoms.

Sitting is also physiologically beneficial in that you are in an upright position as it encourages fetal descent as you are in an upright posture, taking advantage of gravity. Sitting on the ball encourages pelvic mobility by allowing you the freedom to rock your pelvis, change your position and shift your weight for comfort.

To assist in helping your baby start with moving your hips in a circular or figure eight motion while sitting, before, during or between contractions. The movement relaxes the back, pelvic area, hips and legs, the mobility you are unable to attain while sitting on a stationary object like a chair. The rhythmic movement is great for baby as well, soothing and comforting. The relaxation of this position and the movement may also speed labour. Since the ball is made of flexible plastic and is not like a hard chair or bed, it eliminates the pressure on the woman's bottom.

A variation is to sit on the ball which has been placed next to a table or high bed and lean on it with a pillow or two for comfort. This is a very comfortable position that if done right is wonderfully relaxing and excellent for tired Mom’s. Or as pictured above, with the support of your partner or a doula.

The ball can be used in conjunction with both external and internal electronic fetal monitoring as an alternative to sitting on the bed, a chair or standing beside the monitor.

Another variation is in using the ball to help stabilize you if prefer the squatting position for delivery.

Back Labor or Persistent Posterior Fetal Position

The second position is leaning on the ball from a kneeling position. To do this, kneel on a pillow with the ball in front of you. Then lean forward and hug the ball, moving the ball towards or away from you until it is comfortable. This is excellent for those with tired or sore arms, carpal tunnel syndrome or if you just want to relax as you let your upper body rest on the ball. A variation is to kneel, sit on your feet (try a pillow between your feet and bottom) then lean on the ball with it supported from the other side by a wall or chair. A very comfortable position!

This position also gives you excellent pelvic mobility as well as encouraging gravity to assist your baby in rotating to an anterior position as baby’s back is the heaviest part. As your weight is totally supported by the ball, you can stay in this position for long periods of time, which is of great benefit during longer labours in which baby is posterior and needs to turn to the preferred anterior position. I have had clients sleep on the ball in this position between contractions, a lifesaver when tired! Using the birth ball in this position can, in turning the baby to a better position, can even help you avoid a cesarean birth for failure to progress.

Leaning is also a wonderful position for someone like your doula or partner to do counterpressure, apply pressure to your lower back, back labour often accompanies a posterior baby (baby’s back is to your back).

After the Birth

Birth Balls are wonderful for after the birth as well! Not only is it excellent in helping Mom get back in shape (and let’s not rule out Dad too!), but babies can benefit as well. For Mom’s I would recommend The Body Ball Book by Jan Prinzmetal, an excellent workout book specifically using your birth ball. I used this book before, during and after pregnancy as a workout guide and it’s great!

For baby, simply sit on the ball (yourself) holding the baby against your body and simply move from side to side while patting baby. This is great for fussy babies and gives you a break from walking to sooth him or her. Colicy babies benefit from being placed on his or her stomach on the ball. The soft pressure on the baby’s abdomen helps alleviate stomachaches.

Other Suggestions

Always cover the ball while in use, sitting on cold plastic is not comfortable! A towel, chux pad or our Birth Ball Cover will make it much more comfortable.

Birth Balls can be clumsy to carry and transport. Consider purchasing a Birth Ball Carrying Strap or making one to tote it around with. Some doulas have recycled their old slings to carry the ball in. The Birth Ball Cover has a handle built into the design, a bonus for both comfort and carrying ease.

Consider leaving your ball with each client for the last few weeks of pregnancy. She will benefit from the use both in posterior strengthening and assisting her baby into a good position prenatally, thus possibly avoiding prodomal labour and allowing baby to attaining a good position prenatally which can make labour faster and less painful. Consider leaving a copy of  Optimal Foetal Positioning by Sutton and Scott or Sit Up and Take Notice: Positioning Yourself for a Better Birth by Scott for more information on good positioning prenatally and during labour.

Want more information on Birth Balls? Birth Balls: Use of Physical Therapy Balls in Maternity Care by Perez

Copyright - Mother Care, 2000. Written by Connie Banack, CD.

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