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What Birthing Ball Size Should I Use? (+ All the Ways to Use It)

What size birthing ball do I need? How do I use one? Does using a birthing ball induce labor? If you’re wondering about any of those things, this blog post is for you. I’ll answer all your questions about birthing balls (plus some you probably haven’t even thought about yet) so you can choose the right ball for you and be on your way to a happier, more comfortable pregnancy, labor, and postpartum.

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Pregnancy brings lots of questions and lots of additional things to think about. To make things just a little bit easier for you, I want to tell you everything you need to know about a birthing ball – from what size to get to how to use it through pregnancy and beyond. It’ll be one less thing for you to worry about.

Let’s waste no time; we’ll dive right in. 

“Birthing Ball” vs Exercise Ball

First off, don’t let anyone fool you – a birthing ball is nothing more than a glorified exercise ball, one of those big ones that people sit on more than they use to exercise (if they’re anything like me). You don’t need to buy a specific brand or a special “pregnancy” one. People selling those will just charge you extra.

You don’t need to spend more than $20. The ball I have is just $17 (though I got it used so I spent half that). Moral of the story: don’t break the bank just for a ball.

Is Every Birthing Ball the Same Size?

The second thing to understand about birthing balls is that they’re not all created equal. And I’m not talking about quality, I’m talking about size.

Birthing balls come in several different sizes and it does matter what size you get. 

The available sizes of birthing balls are…

  • 45 cm (18 inches),
  • 55 cm (22 inches),
  • 65 cm (26 inches),
  • 75 cm (30 inches), and
  • 85 cm (34 inches).

That said, almost all women will need one of the middle sizes. (The smallest is pretty short and the biggest is pretty tall so you probably won’t want either of those.)

Note: They can be slightly smaller if not fully inflated, so you may see ranges for each size, like 58-65 centimeters for the 65 cm size.

Choosing the Right Size Birthing Ball For You

So which size of birthing ball do you need? That largely depends on how tall you are.

graphic showing that the bent angle of a woman's legs needs to be 90 degrees or more when sitting on a birth ball

The important thing to know when determining the correct size birthing ball for you is that you don’t want your hips to be lower than your knees. You want your legs to form a 90-degree angle, at minimum.

That’s important because part of the benefit of using a birthing ball is to help your baby get and stay in a good position for birth. But if your hips are lower than your knees, you’re working against that goal. 

With that in mind, check out this size chart to find which size birthing ball you’ll need. 

birthing ball size chart

If you want to double-check what the chart says, find a chair or other surface you can sit on that gets your knees to be just a little higher than your hips. Measure how far it is from the floor to the top of the seat of the chair. 

Keep in mind that a soft ball will get shorter when you sit on it, unlike a chair, so you’ll want to get something slightly taller than what the chair measured.

Can a Birthing Ball Be Too Big?

There’s one more thing you should know about birthing ball sizes: it IS possible for one to be too big for you. If you have a ball that’s too big for you, you risk losing your balance and falling.

It’s easy to know if a birthing ball is too big for you. If you can’t put both your feet flat on the ground, it’s too big. You want to be able to fully stabilize yourself to keep yourself and your baby safe. (To be clear, an impact on your abdomen is rarely going to hurt your baby, but you’ll still want to be careful.)

When Can I Use a Birthing Ball?

The next question we need to answer is when to use a birthing ball. The short answer is whenever you want to.

To be more specific, you can use a birthing ball from the start of your pregnancy, all the way till labor begins, throughout labor, and even in the months after your baby is born.

You can use a birthing ball for specific stretches and exercises, like we’ll talk about next, or you can use it as a chair while sitting at your computer, eating meals, or watching TV.

There really isn’t a time when you shouldn’t use a birthing ball, except for maybe when you’re feeling extra tired or a little dizzy, to avoid the higher likelihood of falling off.

During Pregnancy

You can use a birthing ball in so many different ways during pregnancy. Using a birthing ball can relieve back pain, support you while you stretch, help to keep your pelvis aligned, and make exercising more bump-friendly. It can also keep your baby in a good position for birth.

During Labor

Researchers have found that using a birthing ball during labor increases a woman’s confidence, decreases her experience of pain, and reduces the likelihood of interventions such as epidurals and c-sections.

During labor, a birthing ball supports movement which can help your baby make his or her way through your pelvis. Sitting on a birthing ball can also open your pelvis, which is beneficial for the same reason. The subtle movement of rocking or swaying on a ball may help some women stay calmer, too.

(We’ll talk about specific positions and when to use them in the next section.)

During Postpartum

Don’t pack your birthing ball away once you give birth – you may find it useful still. In those first few days or weeks after birth, you’ll want to avoid big movements on the ball, like bouncing. But if you deflate it a little so it’s soft and squishy, you can use it as a chair again.

Because vaginal birth can make your perineum so sensitive for a while, firmer chairs and couches might be uncomfortable. You might find that your ball becomes your favorite seat during that first bit of the postpartum period!

After you’ve healed up, you can use your (reinflated) ball to help soothe your baby. Gentle bouncing or swaying may help your newborn calm down or fall asleep and save you from having to walk around the house for hours with your baby on your shoulder.

All the Ways You Can Use a Birthing Ball

Now that you know all the safety stuff and you’ve chosen the right size birthing ball for you, we can get to the good stuff: all the ways to use your new birthing ball. I’ll give a brief explanation of each and how and when you may want to try it.

Small Bounces

Anyone who’s been a kid before is probably going to want to bounce on a giant ball. Good news: you totally can, even while pregnant.

You may have heard that bouncing is a no-no while pregnant (I did) but, generally, that’s not true. As long as you don’t have special circumstances that your care provider has specifically addressed, bouncing on your (correctly sized) birthing ball is safe.

Other people say that bouncing induces labor. That’s also probably a myth. I’m sure some people have gone into labor after bouncing, but most of the time labor isn’t going to start until your body and your baby are ready. And bouncing isn’t going to change that.

We’ll talk more about whether using a birthing ball can induce labor in a moment.

For some women, bouncing can ease back pain and pressure in the pelvis. Bouncing may also encourage your baby to settle into your pelvis in preparation for birth.

Get Those Hips Moving

One of the main benefits of using a birthing ball is to keep your hips and pelvis open and flexible. The subtle movement you get from using your ball helps immensely to keep that area from getting tight and stiff.

You can move your hips in 4 basic ways on your ball:

  • Circles (or half circles), 
  • Rocking forward and back, 
  • Rocking side to side, and
  • Figure 8s.

Hip circles (or half circles) can encourage your hips to open in preparation for birth. During labor, the circular motion can help your baby engage in your pelvis.

Rocking (side to side or back and forth) and figure 8s are great for loosening up your hips while also stretching your lower back and relieving some of that all-too-familiar back pain. 

Whatever movement you choose, make sure your feet are firmly planted in a wide stance so you don’t slide off as you move. 

As a Chair

Perhaps it goes without saying but I’ll talk about it anyway: a birthing ball makes a great chair. Sitting on a ball instead of a chair can help your hips stay loose and happy. It may also help with posture and core strength (even when you’re not pregnant).

You can use your ball as a chair directly on the floor or you can buy a stand if you want a more stable base. Your ball can be a chair at your desk while working, at the table while eating meals, and instead of a couch while watching TV. 

Lunges

Lunging may not sound like something you want to do while pregnant but hear me out. Your birthing ball can help you do lunges in two ways.

The first one is just a variation of a side-to-side rock. With your backside on the ball, spread your feet even wider, as wide as you can without feeling unstable. Now roll side to side, bending your knee on the side you’re rolling towards. You should feel a little more stretch and relief in your hip and back.

woman doing a low runner's lunge

You can also use your ball to support you as you do runners’ lunges. A runner’s lunge is just a low lunge, with your back knee on the floor, like in the picture above. Instead of bending over your front knee or trying to maintain an upright position, lean on the ball for support. This stretch helps lengthen the front of your back hip and may also help ease some back tension.

Pelvic Tilts

Pelvic tilts are one of six exercises that are widely recommended for women to do during pregnancy to help prep their bodies and their babies for labor. This exercise can ease lower back pain during pregnancy and help keep your baby in the ideal birth position. 

Pelvic tilts can be done in an “all-fours” position (on hands and knees) but you can also do them with the assistance of your birthing ball.

You can do pelvic tilts seated on your ball or kneeling next to it.

To do them seated, sit on your ball, closer to the edge rather than right in the middle, and plant your feet firmly in a wide stance. Then, with your hands on your hips, tilt your pelvis up (kind of like you’re trying to bend your abdomen in half) then tilt your pelvis back (like you’re trying to arch your spine gently).

Keep in mind that this is a small movement, not a big one. Don’t push your belly out too far because extra pressure on your belly can lead to diastasis recti

To do pelvic tilts while kneeling, kneel next to your ball (don’t sit down on your feet). Lean your upper body, arms, and head on the ball. Then make the same motion with your pelvis – up and then back, like a mini cat-cow stretch.

Back and Hip Stretch

One of the nicest stretches you can do with a birthing ball is simply to sit or kneel in front of it and drape your upper body over it. This relaxed position can stretch out your back and the back of your hips and let the weight of your belly hang to relieve that pressure for a moment.

This same position (kneeling) can be a good way to move through contractions during labor. Some women like to put in headphones (or just sit in silence) and sway back and forth with their arms and head resting on the ball. 

Assisted Deep Squat

Along with pelvic tilts, deep squats (deep meaning all but sitting on the floor) are another highly recommended exercise for pregnant women. They can strengthen and stretch at the same time, as well as toning your pelvic floor. Deep squats are easier said than done, though, especially for a pregnant woman.

That’s where the birthing ball comes in. Keep your birthing ball nearby and settle into your squat position then give your ball a big hug and let it support you while your weight gently stretches your legs, glutes, and ankles.

Exercising

Another way to use your birthing ball is for exercise. Using your ball, you can do moves like seated marches, inclined glute bridges, and supported wall squats. Lindsey at Nourish Move Love has a great 15-minute pregnancy ball workout that’s good for all trimesters.

READ MORE >> The Best At-Home Pregnancy Workouts

Can Birthing Balls Cause Labor to Start?

Here’s a question: can using a birthing ball induce labor?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is that labor will start when your body and your baby are ready for it to start and there isn’t much you can do to change that. And so far, nobody has done a study showing that a birthing ball actually helps get things going.

That said, some people still say that utilizing certain positions on their birthing ball has helped to induce labor.

The supposed labor-inducing positions include most of the positions I described in the last section. Those that open your pelvis and put some extra downward pressure on your baby and your cervix might do more than the others. That would include bouncing, circles, and pelvic tilts.

So don’t count on your birthing ball to help kickstart labor. But if you want to test out these positions, it won’t hurt to try.

4 Cautions About Using Your Birthing Ball

After all that, let me add just a few cautions. Birthing balls can be great tools but make sure to use yours safely. 

Get the Right Size — Not too Big, Not Too Small

First — I know I already covered this but it’s important — make sure you have the right size birthing ball. As I explained, if your ball is too small it can work against your efforts to get your baby in a good position. It can also put extra pressure on your hips, legs, and back rather than relieving it.

If your ball is too big, you lose stability and you risk falling. 

Ensure Stability

Second, make sure you have a good, solid base when using your ball. This means you’ll want to be barefoot or have non-slip socks or shoes on. You’ll be more stable on carpet than on hardwood or tile. And always plant your feet in a wide stance so you don’t tip over. 

Mind Your Joints

Third, be aware of and careful with your joints. During pregnancy, you have high levels of the hormone relaxin in your system. Relaxin allows your pelvis to open and make room for your baby, but it also loosens up your other joints. That makes it easier to injure yourself. 

As you circle your hips or lunge or whatever you choose to do, take time as you change positions, and don’t push yourself too much. 

Don’t Strain Your Belly

And finally, don’t stretch or push your belly out too much. As your baby grows, your abdominal muscles have to move to make room. The tissue that connects your abs gets stretched – a lot. If that tissue stretches too far, your abs will have a hard time coming back together like they were pre-pregnancy.

When that happens, it’s called diastasis recti.

As you use your birthing ball during pregnancy, avoid doing big backbends or letting your spine arch a lot. Be gentle with your pelvic tilts. And keep your core gently engaged as you move so your belly isn’t just hanging out.

TL;DR

To sum up, a birthing ball can be a great tool throughout pregnancy, during labor, and after your baby is born. Before buying one, make sure you know what size you need. If you get the wrong size birthing ball (i.e. too small), you’ll be counteracting most of the benefits you were hoping for in the first place. 

You can use your birthing ball in various ways, including hip circles or swaying, pelvic tilts, stretches, and exercise. Or you can use it as a chair!

Using a birthing ball can help relieve aches and pains that come with pregnancy and labor, stretch and strengthen different parts of your body, and help your baby get into and stay in a good position for birth. A birthing ball can even be used postpartum as a soft seat for you or a way to soothe your newborn baby.

If you want to try it out, you can buy a birthing ball for less than $20 and it might become your new best friend.

Until next time,

Allison

P.S. I didn’t use my ball a ton during labor – I just sat on it here and there through a contraction or two – but I’m wondering if I should utilize it more next time. If you used a birthing ball during labor, what was your experience like? Was it helpful? Let us know in the comments!

P.P.S. If you’re trying to prepare your body for labor, you’ll also want to make sure you’re giving it and your baby all the nutrients it needs. The easiest way to do that is to follow The Brewer Pregnancy Diet.

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