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:
Birthing ball exercises
Circling the hips
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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.
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.
3. 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 walks you through the best positions 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 them to latch on.
- To help get them used to tummy time.
- Cuddling them 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 (26 inches) or 75cm (30 inches) 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.
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:
Best birthing balls 2021
Recommended by obstertricians and midwives, the Babygo birthing ball can help reduce pain and relieve tension during pregnancy, and also aid in post-partum recovery. We recommend engaging in simple sitting and leaning positions to start off, and gradually discover other exercises that feel good. It can withstand up to 1000kg making it five times stronger than your average gym ball, and also comes with an 100+ page pregnancy book, outlining trimester specific exercises, nutritional guidance and more.
Review: "I have literally used this every day since I purchased it at 18 weeks pregnant. It has helped so much with sciatic pain, so much easier on the hips than sitting on the sofa. I’m now newly 30 weeks and sat on it whilst writing this review! Fast service, seriously sturdy product and worth every penny 🙌"
This Natural Birth & Fitness birthing ball is made from heavyweight PVC - stronger, firmer and safer than standard gym balls. The eight page instruction booklet included shows a full set of prenatal exercises, postnatal excercises, foetal positioning diagrams, pelvic floor, labour support and natural birth positions. Available in a range of sizes, from 55cm up to 75cm.
Read our Natural Birth & Fitness birthing ball review.
Available in a range of colours, this is one of the highest density exercise balls on the market. There is a quick inflation foot pump included, along with two air stoppers and instructions. Great for pregnancy exercises, and also to improve posture and relieve back pain. Available in five sizes.
Review: "Purchased this ball when I was pregnant to encourage baby to stay head down and was pleased with it then... once baby had arrived we still got our use out of it as it settles her down instantly if she's being fussy! It's amazing. If you're pregnant I'd recommend not deflating the ball once your little one has arrived as you may find it's a brilliant way to soothe them! Definitely got our money's worth from this ball that's for sure."
Size is everything when it comes to birthing balls, which is why we love that this next option has three different sizes to choose from. It's durable, comes with an easy-to-use pump and is made from anti-burst PVC for your safety. Use daily to get rid of tension and stress, and engage in exercises which target specific problem areas - such as your sciatic nerve - for some quick relief.
Review: "I’m 37 weeks pregnant and have suffered badly with SPD and tailbone pain from early pregnancy & I wish I’d have bought this sooner! So comfy to sit on & stops the pain for me, also helpful during braxton hicks! Will 100% use in labour (hospital one) easy to inflate and really durable. Make sure you buy the right one for your height I think that’s where people go wrong. Can’t recommend enough though!"
Another fab option available in three colours, this ball boasts a high grip and non-slip surface which ensures you and your little one's safety. It can strengthen your core, help treat back problems and improve your balance, all of which are highly beneficial pre and post pregnancy. It can sustain up to 500kg, and is made from durable coating - so no worries about bursting! This ball is intended for indoor use only.
Review: "This is an amazing gym ball. I am 39 weeks pregnant and was recommended by my physio and midwife. It has tremendously reduced my lower back, pelvic and sciatica pain."
Free of pthalates, latex and BPA, this birthing ball is highly durable and has great grip. As you get further along in your pregnancy, you can use the ball to stretch and alleviate any aches. Once your bundle of joy arrives, the ball can help lull them to sleep in your arms while you gently bounce.
Review: "All I know is, I went into labour at 4am, went back to sleep, 6am came, woke up, bounced on the ball, 10.40am my son came flying out. Bearing in mind in the car journey to the birth centre, I had to try and not push as according to my midwife, I was about to deliver the baby in the car. Soooo safe to say, if you want that baby out, quickly, go and do your pelvic turns and leaps on this, baby will be out in no time. Genuinely was an amazing, beautiful quick birth. And on top of it all I was 2 weeks overdue and put on alot of weight. The ball supported me perfectly (was so worried it would burst) don't hesitate like me and buy it last minute. Go for it now!"
The Birth-ease Birth Ball is manufactured in Italy by birthing ball specialists. The anti-burst construction means that should the ball get punctured whilst you are sitting on it, it will deflate gradually to prevent you and your baby from injury. The Birth-ease Birth Ball is a premium quality birthing ball, latex-free, tested to the strictest standards up to 300kgs in weight and its non-slip surface gives extra stability and adherence to the floor. Each ball is supplied with two plugs and a hand pump.
Read our Birth-ease Ball review.
Everything in this Tumaz Birth Ball Set is essential during and after pregnancy. The premium anti-burst exercise ball can be used for prenatal and postnatal exercises. Also included are some anti-slip socks, and a peri bottle for taking care of 'down there', to facilitate postpartum cleansing and healing. The Tumaz birth ball supports up to 2,400 lbs and the maximum load of the Tumaz yoga strap's band is 2,379 lbs. This set will help you prepare for a smooth delivery while relieving back pain and soreness.
Review: "This has been my ride and die. Been using it for my lower back pain as have been unable to go to physio. Provides relief to my back pain and everyone in the family is now using it."
The CUB is a cross between a birth ball and a birth stool, an innovation designed by a midwife to provide comfortable support for mothers who want to maximise their chance of a natural, active birth by using a variety of upright positions. It can be used throughout labour as a comfortable support, either to sit on, rest on or lean over as well as to give birth to the baby on; suitable for use in maternity hospitals, birth centres or at home births.
Review: "After 2 hospital pain free births I decided to have one at home. I was afraid so I bought everything under the sun to get me through.This was my main tool to transition me till I was ready to push. I gave it to my doula to give this magic pain reliever exposure. Every time I mentioned it, nobody knew what I was talking about. Every woman having natural birth needs one!!!"