Birthing Balls for Pregnancy, Birth, and Postpartum

Last Updated: February 13, 2024
Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

By Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

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One of my absolute favorite tools for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are birthing balls! Birthing balls, aka pregnancy balls, yoga balls, and exercise balls are versatile items that will support you throughout your entire motherhood journey.

From relieving pregnancy discomforts to encouraging labor, and soothing your newborn once they arrive, you’ll be surprised just how helpful a birthing ball can be!

Read on to learn all about birthing balls, what size is right for you, how to use them in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, and more!

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What is a birthing ball?

So, this is a question that I get asked all the time – but really a birthing ball is simply an exercise ball that’s being used for pregnancy and birth! There isn’t a special “birthing ball”, we just refer to exercise balls this way when they’re being used in labor and for prenatal comfort.

It’s a great idea to get one by the time you’re in your second trimester because they are wonderful to have around the house during pregnancy for stretching, exercising, sitting, and even just kicking your feet up.

Once you get closer to your due date there is a lot you can do with a birthing ball to encourage baby into the right position for birth.

Then, of course, there are lots of ways to use it during your actual labor/birth and even once your newborn arrives, which we’ll talk about more later in this article.

Birthing ball vs. yoga ball vs. pregnancy ball

You guessed it – they are all one and the same! Just like I explained above, these terms are used interchangeably and in terms of design and product are the exact same thing.

In this article, you’ll notice that I will be using these terms interchangeably as well!

Pregnancy ball size

Okay, so before we even talk about the many amazing uses for your birth ball, let’s talk about sizing. Size matters a lot more than you think when it comes to getting a ball. A lot of people don’t even realize that birthing balls come in different sizes!

The basic pregnancy ball size recommendations based on height are:

  • 5’4” and below: 55 cm diameter ball
  • 5’4” – 5’10”: 65 cm diameter ball
  • 5’10” and taller: 75 cm diameter ball

In addition to taking height into consideration, it’s important that your hips are even with, or just slightly higher than your knees when your feet are flat on the ground.

Your knees should not be above your hips (like a squat) when you are seated on your birthing ball. This is the one I love and recommend from Amazon because it comes in many different sizes and colors, includes a pump, and is less than $20!!

Why is that so important?

Well, this position can help keep your pelvis in a more open position, which is not only more ideal for labor and baby’s positioning, but it can also help relieve back pain and general discomfort associated with pregnancy.

When to start using a birthing ball

As long as your pregnancy is low-risk and you have your provider’s approval it should be safe to use your birthing ball throughout your entire pregnancy.

My recommendation would be to increase the amount of time you spend on your birthing ball and the intensity of the exercises as you get closer to your due date

And when it comes to most exercises on your ball, you really can’t do it TOO much once you’ve hit 39 weeks. Feel free to sit on your birthing ball as much as you want to help get that baby to drop!

You can use it when you’re watching TV, working at a desk, while you’re reading, and even during meals.

Benefits of a birthing ball

Let’s take a look at all the birthing ball benefits for pregnancy and to prepare for labor:

  • Relieves lower back pain, strengthens your lower back and core, and improves posture – spoiler alert, all these muscles are important for birth and postpartum recovery
  • Helps open the pelvis and encourages baby’s head to engage deeper into the pelvic bones, which may help with spontaneous labor
  • Can help baby turn into a good birthing position
  • Baby’s head bounces up and down, putting pressure on your cervix, which can encourage softening and dilation

The biggest postpartum benefit of a birthing ball is to help comfort and soothe a fussy baby.

Make sure you are comfortable sitting on the ball and are able to get on and off without losing your balance before you try sitting down on the ball with a baby in your arms.

Related Reading: Third Trimester Must Haves for Comfort and Relief

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Yoga ball during pregnancy

Regular use of a yoga ball during pregnancy can help relieve pain, strengthen core muscles, open up your pelvis, help baby get into an optimal position for birth, encourage baby to engage, and may help start labor by preparing your body for birth.

When you’re using your birth ball you want to sit with your feet flat and apart, so that your feet and the center of the ball make a tripod when you sit down. Again, the ball should be firm and big enough so that your hips are equal to or higher than your knees.

Birthing ball exercises for pregnancy

There are many different ways a birthing ball can be used during pregnancy. Here are some of the most common exercises and uses:

  • Sitting
    • As I mentioned above, using your yoga ball as a seat while you work at a desk, watch TV, or even eat dinner can bring relief to your lower back and pelvis, while encouraging baby into an optimal position
  • Bouncing up and down
    • Sit on your ball with feet flat and legs apart, and move your hips up and down
    • This can relieve tension in the lower back and encourage the pelvic floor to contract and relax naturally
  • Rocking side-to-side and back and forth
    • Again, this can help get baby into a good position for birth (are you sensing a theme here? Ha)
    • While you are doing this you can lean your body slightly forward
  • Knees on the floor with upper body draped over the ball
    • While doing this you want to gently move your body forward and backward or side-to-side – find what feels good for you!
    • This helps with positioning, lower back pain, and can be used in labor!

Related Reading: Benefits of Prenatal Fitness

Pregnancy ball to induce labor

As you get closer to your due date, you can continually increase the amount of time you spend on your birthing ball – and you’ll probably want to given the discomfort that starts to creep in!

While there’s a slim chance that using your birthing ball alone will actually induce your labor, it can certainly encourage labor readiness.

Does bouncing on a ball induce labor?

There’s a fine line between things that help prep your body for labor and things that might help naturally induce labor.

However, encouraging baby into an optimal position for birth (head down, looking at your back) can promote spontaneous labor and help prep your cervix for labor. All of this is great if you’re hoping to avoid an induction!

Related Instagram Post: Dilation, Effacement, and Station

How to use your birthing ball to prepare the body for labor:

  • Deep wide circles
    • Can help get baby’s head to descend down into the pelvis
    • Puts pressure on the cervix encouraging softening and even dilation
    • Do these circles for 10 minutes, changing directions periodically
  • Figure 8s
    • Spend 5-10 minutes moving in a figure 8 pattern in one direction, then switch directions and do another 5-10 minutes
  • Bouncing
    • Sit on the exercise ball with your legs wide apart, and move your hips up and down
    • Encourages the pelvic floor to contract and relax naturally
    • Gentle bouncing also allows the spine to decompress, making a little more space between the vertebrae, which can relieve tension in the lower back
  • Modified child’s pose
    • Drape your arms over a birthing ball while keeping your knees on the ground
    • Gently rock back and forth or forward and backward
    • Can also work for a supported cat/cow pose
    • All of these movements can encourage baby into an optimal position for birth
  • Supported squats
    • To help yourself get into a deeper squat, you can use your birthing ball to stabilize yourself by putting it in front of you and using it for support and balance

Many of the exercises mentioned for pregnancy can also help! Remember, you really can’t do it TOO much once you’ve hit 39 weeks.

Related Reading: Natural Ways to Induce Labor

How to use a birthing ball in labor

Once you are actually in labor you can use any of the previously discussed exercises and positions to help manage the pain of labor, help baby descend, and encourage dilation. The upward curve of the ball provides good support to the vertebrae and can be helpful to sit on in early labor at home.

Here are some other ways to use your birthing ball during labor:

  • If you are a fan of hydrotherapy, the ball can be used in the shower
    • Drape yourself over the ball, or sit on the ball while positioning water pressure on your lower back
    • If you try this, make sure there’s a bar to hold onto or someone supporting you
  • Use the ball to support your upper body when you are kneeling and leaning forward in labor
    • This position on the ball makes it easy to rock forward and back during contractions
    • It’s a great way to be in a hands and knees position without straining your wrists
  • Sit on your ball and use it to rock side-to-side or make gentle circles to calm yourself and rock during contractions

Related Instagram Reel: 7 Ways to Use Your Birthing Ball

Do birthing facilities provide birthing balls?

I can’t make a blanket statement on if your birth place will definitely provide birthing balls, because some do and some don’t!

Personally, the hospital where I work has several birthing balls available for women to use during labor. The balls are cleaned and sanitized after each patient. I’ve never seen it happen where a woman wanted to use a birthing ball and one wasn’t available.

However, I think this is a great question to ask your provider at a prenatal appointment ahead of time. Talking about it at the same time you discuss your birth plan is a great idea!

Related Reading: How to Create a Birth Plan + Free Printable Template

Birthing balls for postpartum

The cherry on top when it comes to pregnancy/birthing/yoga balls is the ability to continue using them during the postpartum period!

As I mentioned previously, probably the biggest benefit to a birthing ball during postpartum is to help soothe an unsettled baby. Seriously, I couldn’t believe how much I bounced on the yoga ball with my first after he was born.

Some additional uses for your “birthing” ball after birth:

  • Postpartum exercises
  • Stretching your upper back and shoulders (baby care involves a lot of hunching!)
  • Meditation
  • Or even just as a chair!

Wrapping Up

As you can see, birthing balls are a wonderful investment that will serve you throughout your pregnancy, labor, and beyond!

Just be sure to get one that is sized correctly for your body and check with your provider for safety of use unique to your needs.

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Liesel Teen, RN-BSN

Liesel Teen

BSN, RN, Practicing Labor and Delivery Nurse

As a labor and delivery nurse, I’ve spent countless hours with women who felt anxious — even fearful — about giving birth. I want you to know it doesn’t have to be that way for you!

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