Birth balls, commonly recognized as exercise balls, have been used for many purposes over the last ten years, including physical therapy, abdominal exercise, and most recently to aid pregnancy and labor. Its shape and durability allow it to be used by a variety of weights and heights, and in multiple positions. Birth balls can aide in pregnancy and labor to improve fetal positioning, fetal descent and maternal comfort.
Fetal positioning can make a huge difference in how labor develops. A baby facing in the posterior position in the womb may have a slow descent, and can also cause painful back labor (Spinning Babies). Poor fetal position can also cause very slow dilation, often resulting in unnecessary interventions. In some cases, the baby may have a difficult time turning and become stuck, requiring surgery or forceps delivery (Spinning Babies). Fetal positioning can be improved by having good posture. Often pregnant women are sitting on cushy couches or less than ergonomic driver seats, causing poor posture (Spinning Babies). By sitting and resting on the ball, the posture is upright and forward leaning, engaging abdominal muscles while relaxing the pelvis area. The back is comforted and strengthened by ball use, supporting the pelvis. With proper alignment and a relaxed pelvic area, the baby will have room to position properly, and begin to drop into the pelvis (Spinning Babies). It also encourages the baby to settle into an anterior position that is optimal for labor (Spinning Babies). Often a posterior baby can be encouraged to turn during labor by sitting on the ball.
Fetal descent is defined as entrance of the presenting portion (usually the head) into the birth canal. Descending takes time and hard work from both mom and baby.The use of gravity and squatting positions are helpful in this process, but can be taxing on the mother’s muscles over a long labor. The birth ball is a great tool in this scenario, as it allows mom to sit in a squatting position, allowing the use of gravity and an open pelvis to bring the baby down, but also allows for rest. The mother can also lean forward while sitting, and receive a massage or counter pressure. The ball can also be hugged while deeply squatting on the floor. It allows mom a greater balance and ease in the position, one that can be utilized in the pushing stage.
The birth ball is a great comfort tool for mothers in labor. It allows the mother to rest while still engaging an open pelvis. The birth ball can be a great break from walking, while still remaining active (Birth Arts Handbook p.187). It allows the mother to do pelvic circles and rhythmic movements that help her ease the pain of contractions. These movements often help the baby to navigate the turns in the pelvis before crowning (Birth Arts International p.187). The birth ball also creates a counter pressure against the perineum and buttocks that can ease the sensations of early transition, which can be a difficult time for the mother. Having the birth ball as a comfort tool the mother can find a coping mechanism and rhythm through her contractions. By having support and a rhythm to help her cope, the mother can navigate her labor and have a mental place to return to when labor gets hard.
By utilizing the versatility of the birth ball, a mother can improve fetal position, while encouraging fetal descent and increasing comfort during labor. By improving these aspects of birth, unnecessary intervention can be avoided, as well as the use for drugs. This can greatly improve outcomes for mothers and babies, especially in a hospital setting where the mother is out of her comfort zone.
Birth Arts International, Certified Doula Education Program. Demetria Clark. 2000-2015. P.187