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You’ve probably heard of a birthing ball. It’s large, round, and bouncy — great for opening your pelvis during labor. But what the heck is a peanut ball?

Well, the same idea applies here. It’s a “ball” that was first used in physical therapy offices, but it’s now also used during labor and delivery. It has an oblong, peanut-shell shape (hence the name) that dips in the center so you can wrap your legs around it.

You can use a traditional birthing ball on the floor to bounce on or hunch over during labor. For those who give birth in bed — say, due to having an epidural, being tired, or having a personal preference — there are similar benefits with a peanut ball. Let’s take a closer look at the claims and the research.

Peanut balls may help during the first and second stages of labor. This means you can use them as your cervix is doing the work to dilate to 10 centimeters (cm) and then again in the pushing stage.

The major claim out there is that a peanut ball can help women who are in bed open the pelvis in a similar way to a birthing ball can help on the ground. Opening the pelvis is key to baby more easily making their way down the birth canal. (And the easier, the better — as you can imagine!)

Other possible benefits of using a peanut ball during labor include:

  • reduction in pain
  • shortened labor time
  • reduction in rate of cesarean delivery
  • reduction in rate of other interventions, like forceps and vacuum extraction

Health blogger Katie Wells at Wellness Mama shares that you may reap benefits by using peanut balls in late pregnancy as well. According to Wells, sitting on one may ease pressure on the back and encourage good posture. Her doula even suggested kneeling or leaning on the ball to move baby into a favorable birthing position before labor.

Get this — not only does 2011 research say that the peanut ball can shorten labor, findings say it may shorten the first stage by as much as 90 minutes. And the second stage — pushing — may be reduced by around 23 minutes on average. Add those numbers up, and that’s meeting your baby nearly two hours sooner!

When it comes to pain, a 2015 review on all types of birthing balls showed that women who use them see significant improvements. Why? Moving positions during labor may help with pain, and the peanut ball encourages movement.

If you’re planning an epidural for pain, you may worry that using a ball might lessen its effects. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there’s no need for concern.

In fact, several moms who shared their birth stories asked to stop using a peanut ball because they felt intense pressure, but not pain. What these women soon found out is that the pressure was due to quickly reaching full dilation after using the ball.

And as for cesarean rates, in one small 2015 study, 21 percent of women who had epidurals but did not use a peanut ball needed cesarean deliveries. This is compared to just 10 percent of women who had epidurals but did use the ball.

This study was limited to just one labor and delivery ward, but it’s still promising. It supports the idea that the ball opens the pelvis to help chances of vaginal delivery.

Now, to (possibly) burst this sweet bubble: Not all research has had such mind-blowing results.

A 2018 study didn’t show any major difference in the time it took to fully dilate or the time spent in active labor between women who used a peanut ball and those who went without. Not only that, but this same study showed that cesarean rates between the two groups was also not very different.

The bottom line? Initial research is promising, but larger studies are needed.

The way you use your peanut ball is up to you and what feels good. There are certain positions that may work best, especially if you’ve had an epidural. Try a variety of positions, but try to move at least every 20 to 60 minutes to keep good circulation and encourage progress.

Side-lying position

Lay on your right or left side in bed. (Doing so promotes a good flow of oxygen and blood to the placenta.) Then:

  • Place the peanut ball between your thighs and wrap both legs around it, opening your pelvis.
  • Keep your legs slightly bent, but low beneath you.
  • To try something a bit different, you can also bring your legs higher toward your abdomen so you’re in a squatting position on the bed.

Lunge position

Follow the same instructions, but elevate the top of the hospital bed (if you’re in one) to around 45 degrees. This way, your head is up and gravity is working with you. From there:

  • Rotate your upper body to open your pelvis.
  • Bring the ball horizontally under your top leg into a lunge.

This opens the pelvis in a different direction and can be a good variation to try.

Fire hydrant

Say what? (These positions can have some interesting names.) For this one:

  • Place your hands on the bed with one of your knees kneeling.
  • Place your knee and foot of the other leg atop the peanut ball.
  • If you can, make sure the ball is on the bottom part of the bed and lower it a bit.

This position may help your baby rotate as they move through the birth canal.

Pushing

There are two main ways to use the peanut ball for pushing. The first is in a tucked side-lying position:

  • Move your body into side-lying position.
  • Elevate the top of the bed to a 45-degree angle to help move your baby lower in the birth canal.

The second is in a forward-leaning position:

  • Rest on your hands and knees.
  • Use the peanut ball more like a pillow for your upper body.

Again, gravity helps your baby lower down for delivery.

Check out these YouTube videos for more examples of using a peanut ball during labor:

First, the free version (because we all like free!): Call ahead to see if your hospital or birth center provides peanut balls for use during labor.

You can also purchase one for use at home or if you’re having a home birth. Keep in mind that you’ll need to choose the appropriate one, as peanut balls come in four different sizes: 40 cm, 50 cm, 60 cm, and 70 cm.

How do you choose the right size? The 40 and 50 cm balls are most commonly used during labor.

  • If you’re petite (5’3″ and under), try the 40 cm.
  • If you’re between 5’3″ and 5’6″, go for the 50 cm.
  • If you’re taller than 5’6″, the 60 cm is likely the best choice.

The 70 cm ball should only be used in sitting positions. It’s important to get the right size, because if the ball is too big, it may stress the hip joint.

You might find peanut balls at local medical supply stores, but you can always purchase online, too.

Some options:

Note: Whatever you choose, look for a ball that’s latex-free and burst-resistant.

Your ticket to a shorter labor and delivery may be an inexpensive peanut ball — who knew?

While the research is limited and the results might not be universally shared by all women, using one is certainly worth a try — especially if you think you may want to labor in bed for a while.

At the very least, consider trying a peanut ball to help ease those aches and pains in later pregnancy. As long as you get the right size and use it correctly, it can’t hurt.