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You’ve probably seen exercise balls in yoga classes and at the gym. But these inflated balls aren’t only great for workouts. You can also use them during pregnancy, labor, and even after giving birth — and when used in this manner, they’re often referred to as birthing balls.
Here’s what you need to know about birthing balls, including why some women consider them a godsend during pregnancy and labor.
Birthing balls are essentially the same as exercise balls. They’re both made from a durable material that makes them extremely difficult to puncture. But exercise balls used at the gym tend to be smaller than birthing balls.
Birthing balls are larger for comfort and have an anti-slip finish. This is a must-have feature for sitting on the ball for long periods without slipping off.
So why are birthing balls frequently used during pregnancy, labor, and even after birth?
To put it simply, birthing balls can reduce pain and help you feel more comfortable during labor. Many birthing balls are round, but some are also in the shape of a peanut.
Peanut balls are made from the same material as a round birthing ball. But instead of being round, these balls are larger on the ends and have a narrow middle, like a peanut. You can’t use a regular birthing ball while lying down in bed — but you can use a peanut ball in this position.
It’s easier to get into a comfortable, relaxed position while resting or sleeping since you’re able to lift your legs over or around a peanut ball.
There are no rules that say you have to use a birthing ball during pregnancy or labor. Many women don’t.
Let’s face facts. Pregnancy and delivery can be hard on the body. And while everyone’s experience is different, many women have the same general complaints of back pain, stress, and pelvic or abdominal pain. According to some personal testimonies, a birthing ball can improve some of these symptoms, allowing for a smoother labor and delivery.
But don’t think you have to wait until labor to use a birthing ball. A ball can also help relieve pain and pressure in the months or weeks leading up to delivery.
Sitting on the couch, a chair, or any flat surface can be uncomfortable during pregnancy. On the other hand, the curve of a birthing ball might relieve pressure in your pelvis, lower back, and spine.
Sitting on the ball in an upright position can also encourage the opening of your pelvic muscles, allowing room for the baby to descend into the pelvis in preparation for birth.
There’s also evidence suggesting that using a birthing ball during labor can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as labor pain.
There’s even research suggesting that a peanut ball can result in shorter active labor, although more studies are needed.
If a birthing ball has these potential benefits, you might wonder whether a birthing ball could also induce labor. Although some women might go into labor while sitting, rotating, or bouncing on a birthing ball, there’s no evidence to suggest that these balls can induce labor or break your water.
To be comfortable on a birthing ball, it’s important to choose the right size ball based on your size and height. Birthing balls aren’t one size fits all. They usually come in small, medium, or large. Some birthing balls are sold fully inflated, but other balls must be inflated after purchase.
For the most part, you should be able to sit on a birthing ball with your feet planted flat on the floor. If you’re on your tippy toes while sitting, the ball is too large. And if your knees are positioned higher than your stomach, the ball is too small.
As a general guideline, ball sizes correspond to height.
- if you’re 5-foot 4 inches or shorter: 55 cm
- if you’re 5-foot 4 to 10 inches: 65 cm
- if you’re 5-foot 10 inches or taller: 75 cm
Keep in mind that recommendations can vary depending on the ball. So read the package label to see the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Some manufacturers may recommend a different ball size based on your height and weight. Choosing the right size is important because sitting too high or too low to the ground could irritate your back and knees.
If you’re using a birthing ball for the first time while pregnant, do so with the assistance of another person to prevent accidentally slipping off.
Now that you know how to purchase a birthing ball, here are some suggestions for how to use the ball during pregnancy, labor and after delivery.
Lower back pain doesn’t only develop during labor. Some women also experience pain during pregnancy. If so, sitting on a birthing ball at work or while watching TV may relieve some of this pressure and help you feel more comfortable.
Sitting on a birthing ball is also great exercise. It can strengthen your stomach and back muscles, improve your posture, and prepare your body for delivery.
Sitting in an upright position can also change your baby from a posterior position to an anterior position, which may also relieve back pain.
Finding a comfortable position during labor is difficult. Yet, using a birthing ball and experimenting with different positions can help ease pelvic or spinal pressure.
You can sit on a birthing ball and rock from side to side, or from front to back. Some women also sit on a birthing ball while leaning forward on a table or bed, so that their partner can massage their back.
Getting into a hands and knees position while using a birthing ball may also take pressure off your lower back and pelvis. Place a pillow on the floor, and with your knees on the pillow, lean forward and hug the birthing ball.
This position can provide comfort if you’re nearing the pushing stage and can’t sit due to pelvic pressure.
If you’re using a peanut ball, you may want to use it to support your legs or body while you’re in the bed. There are various positions you can try to increase your comfort during labor.
After giving birth
After giving birth, it’s only natural to have pain or pressure in the area between your vagina and anus. So sitting down can be uncomfortable.
You can slightly deflate the birthing ball to make it softer and more comfortable. This way, you can sit on the ball while watching TV or relaxing, or while breastfeeding or rocking a fussy baby.
Once you’re feeling up to it, use your birthing ball for exercise or to help strengthen yourself postpartum.
For this exercise, you’ll gently bounce on a birthing ball for a few minutes at a time. This exercise can improve stability and balance and strengthen your legs.
Hula hoop exercise
Strengthen and tone your core with a birthing ball. Sit on the ball with your hands on your hips, and then rotate your hips in a circular motion as if you’re hula hooping.
Lie on the floor on your back with your legs elevated and ankles resting on top of the birthing ball. Slowly raise your upper body until you form a V-shape. Keep your hips on the floor. Hold this position for 5 counts and then slowly lower your upper body to the floor. Repeat for the desired number of reps to strengthen and tone your legs and abdomen.
Overhead ball squat
Stand in the position of a traditional squat with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the birthing ball in front of your body. Bend your knees and squat, as if you’re about to sit in an imaginary chair. As you squat, raise the birthing ball overhead. Hold his position for about 5 counts and then return to starting position. Repeat the desired number of reps to strengthen your legs, thighs, abdomen, and arms.
A birthing ball can provide a lot of comfort before and during labor. It can help relieve back pain, decrease pelvic pressure, and it might even shorten labor. The one thing it can’t do, though, is induce labor. And the best thing about a birthing ball, you can use it after birth to sit comfortably or get into shape.