Mother and Baby

How to use a birthing ball during pregnancy and beyond

Section: Labour & Birth
woman holding birthing ball

You’ve probably heard a lot about birthing balls, but if you’re wondering what all the hype is about (and whether that yoga ball in the loft will do) here's everything you need to know. 

Simply put, a birthing ball is an exercise ball, though affectionally referred to as a 'birthing ball' when used in labour. The main difference is that exercise balls used at the gym tend to be smaller than birthing balls.

What are the benefits of using a birthing ball?

A birthing ball isn't just for labour - in fact there are many benefits to using a birthing ball during your pregnancy, as well as afterwards. 

Not only can a birth ball help reduce back pain and pelvic pain particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy, it is said to ease labour pains and reduce the pain of contractions. It can also help you move your baby into the right position for an easier birth.

If you find it difficult to get comfortable or sit for long periods of time then you may find sitting on a birthing ball is the solution. This also helps open up your pelvic muscles, in preparation for labour. 

The added bonus is that every time you sit on your birthing ball your core is getting a workout too - which will not only help during labour, but also with your recovery afterwards. 

How to use a birthing ball  

Birthing balls can be used at any point during pregnancy and for many different reasons along the way. From around 32 weeks you can start to do exercises with your birthing ball, to help prepare your body for labour, relieve your muscles and even ease stress. 

Using a birth ball throughout pregnancy and labour is an excellent way to help your pelvis and baby get into optimal position for birth.

Birthing balls are wonderful at really opening up the pelvis and alleviating discomfort in your spine, hips and lower back. Here are some positions you can try both before and during labour:

Circling the hips

10 to 2 exercise position

  1. Ensure you have someone standing behind you to steady you, then sit on the ball, opening your legs wide with your toes pointing outward, so your feet are at what we call a 10 to 2 position. 
  2. From here, keeping your upper body still, imagine that you are sitting inside a barrel and have a cloth tied around your hips. Without using your hands, you’re going to circle your hips to clean the inside of the barrel.
  3. This type of circling the hips is especially helpful in getting your baby into a favourable position and for bringing the head down. This helps put an even pressure on the neck of the womb to open it up.
  4. Carry on circling on the ball for 20 minutes – ten minutes one way, then change direction.

Other exercises to try include bouncing on the ball, doing squats whilst raising the birthing ball over your head, or doing sit ups with your legs resting on top of the ball.

How can a birthing ball help with labour?

The below positions are great examples of how you could use a birthing ball in labour:

leaning against ball position

1. This position of leaning on the ball whilst kneeling helps to give you support and also allows you to rock back and forth with ease.

hugging exercise ball position

2. From a supported kneeling position on the floor, wrap your arms around the birthing ball while lifting your bottom slightly. Then slowly rock your pelvis from side to side. 

leaning on birthing ball3. While in a standing position, lean over your birthing ball as it balances on your bed, using it for your support. ​

In the below video nurse and fellow mum Haley goes over the best positions you can use your birthing ball for to help manage contractions while at the same time, helping labour to progress to help you have an easier and faster birth.   

Using a birthing ball when your baby is born

There's no need to throw away your birthing ball when your bundle of love makes their appearance as there's plenty it can be used for beyond birth, for example:

  • For breastfeeding your baby when you're comfortable with getting her to latch on. 
  • To help get her used to tummy time. 
  • Cuddling her while bouncing on the birthing ball to soothe your little one to sleep. 
  • For post-natal exercises such as yoga and pilates.
  • As a general chair while working or watching TV - this will help provide better posture. 

When to start using a birthing ball, and more - your questions answered

Answering the most common birth ball questions is One Born Every Minute midwife, Hana Pauls from Liverpool Women’s Hospital, who explains just why this inflatable ball really is your best friend during labour.

When should I start using a birthing ball?

It’s important to get used to sitting on the ball, so get it inflated and practice the exercises mentioned above. When trying the ball for the first time, place it on a carpet rather than a smooth floor, as this will reduce the movement. Also, it’s a good idea to have someone stood behind you to help you get balanced. Remember, barefoot is best, but if not, make sure you have non-slip shoes or socks on.

Are birthing balls the same as exercise balls?

Effectively, yes! Sometimes cheaper exercise balls will deflate faster than specialist birthing balls, so make sure it’s fully inflated before birth. Also, some birthing balls will have a non-slip finish which is important. One thing to check is the size of the ball, as some yoga balls are much smaller than you think when you inflate them – ideally, your birthing ball should be 65cm (26in) or 75cm (30in) when inflated.

What size birthing ball do I need?

Knowing what size to buy can be difficult, yet this is the one thing you need to get right. Hana explains: “You want to be able to sit with your feet comfortably flat on the ground. If you’re having to tip toe, it’s too big. Likewise, if you feel too close to the ground and your knees are positioned higher than your tummy, it’s too low."

“Ensure the ball can take your weight. Instructions on the box can tell you the maximum weight.”

Ideally, your knees should be about 4 inches lower than your hips when you sit on it, so as a rough guide if you’re shorter than 5ft 8, it’s best to get a 65cm ball. If you’re taller than this, opt for a 75cm ball.

Does a birthing ball help start labour?

Midwife Hana explains, “You can use a birthing ball to prepare for labour, or during labour. However, it doesn’t induce labour per se! In the early stages of labour, the birthing ball can bring on surges if a woman sits on the ball and does rotations or the circle exercise mentioned above.”

How common are birthing balls in labour? 

There’s a reason why you’ll have heard a lot about them whilst getting your birth plan ready! According to Hana, “Birthing balls are very common in labour. In fact, every single one of our birthing rooms are furnished with at least one if not two birthing balls. We’re crazy about birthing balls – they are such a wonderful tool and labour aid. I’d really recommend you make sure one features in your labour; if you’re planning a hospital birth, make enquiries to check that they have one, and buy one if you plan on having a home birth.”

Can I use a birthing ball to help break my waters?

This is a complicated answer, as nobody really knows how waters break. Midwife Hana explains, “I have known many women to state with great conviction that the birthing ball helped to break their waters! In truth, nobody really knows why a woman’s waters break, so there’s no harm in trying to use a birth ball. Saying that, the longer the waters are in place the more cushioning you and baby have when the surges begin.”

Where can I get a birth ball pump?

Depending on where you buy your ball, a lot of them will come with a pump, however, if not, a foot or bike tire bump should help. 

Where can I buy a birthing ball? 

Birth balls are pretty easy to get hold of - you'll find plenty of them online. We've picked some of our favourites for you to choose from here. ​

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  • Author: Emily Thorpe Emily Thorpe
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Having worked for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news and product pages, features and  interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith, Fearne Cotton and Alex Jones, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online.

A fondness for travel, chocolate and her sausage dog Luna, in her spare time. Emily also runs the lifestyle blog, Musings & More.


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