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My labor toolkit: Using a exercise ball for increased support and comfort during labor.

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

An exercise ball is a great piece of equipment no matter who you are and where you are in your personal fitness. When you are expecting a baby, this commonplace item becomes an especially valuable thing to have around. It’s so versatile and can serve so many functions for pregnancy, labor and beyond. They are also affordable, easy to find and most birthing facilities will have them on hand. (You may need to ask)

Labor at Duke Regional Hospital. Durham, NC
Don't have a tub in your room? You can still rest in the shower with a birth ball

Before baby comes, you can sit on the ball to relieve pressure in your pelvis and tailbone and stabilize your core. Spending some time sitting on the ball during pregnancy can also help your posture and relieve some of the back pain that is so common in the final weeks of pregnancy. You can move however feels best for you, but hip tilts and circles are very easy and effective.  

During labor, this also a very useful tool to increase comfort as you cope with contractions. The nature of the ball also helps encourage movement and gravity which is shown to improve birth outcomes and satisfaction. There are so many ways it can be used at different stages of labor. Some common things I suggest are: 

  • Use the ball to lean against the wall 

  • Prop the ball on the bed and rest your upper body 

  • Use the ball to help you kneel or squat 

Squatting and kneeling in labor is so effective in increasing the space in your pelvis, but it can be exhausting and put a lot of strain on the knees. A ball that is slightly deflated can be used to assist in a deeper squat for a longer amount of time. Personally, I spent a lot of time in this position when laboring with my third baby. I was a little skeptical when my midwife walks in with this dinky little ball, but I really found that it was helpful for me.

Good ole fashion sitting is great too

You don't have to get fancy to see benefits from a birth ball. Any way you use it will assist the baby in descending and allow gravity to work with your body.  Let's face it, labor is long and hard and sometimes moms need a break. I love that a birth ball can be used to help mom to have a rest while also remaining upright and keeping the pelvis open. With assistance, some of the positions mentioned may also be used with an epidural to help the mother labor in a more upright position. This depends on the strength of the anesthetic being used. 

Doula Support Raleigh-Durham Area-The Doula Lens

Another thing worth mentioning is that when you are resting on the birth ball, it leaves your back free for your partner or doula to provide massage, counter pressure or hip squeezes. These things can help the mother feel more comfortable and will facilitate the hormones that keep labor moving along. 

Pro tips for after birth You can use a ball to support a swollen perineum. The gentle pressure may give you some relief during their recovery. A ball is also a great place to bounce a tired, fussy baby. Just be careful you don't rock yourself to sleep as well. If you have experience with the sleep deprivation of new motherhood, you know what I'm talking about.

There are many other benefits and uses for a birth ball, these are just some of the ways I have seen it used successfully both in my personal experience and working with other expectant moms. It is such a useful thing to have, if I had to choose one thing to have in my "toolbox", this might be the one that feels the most valuable to me when considering all the benefits it can provide for every stage of pregnancy and birth. It's a cheap and low-tech way to greatly improve your birthing experience.

Do you own an exercise ball? What's your favorite way to use it? 

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