As doulas, we have many tricks and props we can use to help a mom be more comfortable and avoid unnecessary pain in labour. One of the most frequently used tools is the birth ball! The birth ball is just a regular exercise ball that you can purchase at any Walmart or sporting goods store. Read on to find out some of the ways we recommend using the ball during pregnancy, labour and in your postpartum period!
Let’s talk about baby positioning. The most optimal position for baby to be in when you start labour is called LOA. This position means baby’s back is against mom’s front on the left side. Baby would be looking at mom’s back. Alternatively, having baby’s back is against the mother’s back can lead to painful back labour contractions. Labour is often longer in this situation as well.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, the birth ball may be able to help ensure baby is in an ideal position. Doing exercises that create a “baby hammock”, like laying over the ball as shown below, is often recommended!
Another way to promote good fetal positioning is trying to maintain good posture during pregnancy. This can definitely be hard late in pregnancy when you get to the end of a long day and just want to lounge on the couch watching Netflix! But not to worry! You can still binge watch your shows, but try sitting on the birth ball instead of lying back in the recliner or slouching on the couch. Besides being able to maintain good posture, sitting on the ball and doing small hip circles and "figure-eights" with your hips can help lower the baby further down into your pelvis! A perfect option since we want baby nice and low when labour begins.
If during birth you experience back labour, we may recommend you have a few of your contractions (also known as waves or surges!) while in the hands and knees position. Having the ball to lean over takes pressure off your wrists, as well as allows you to gently rock or sway if you desire. In this position we, your doulas, have full access to your back to apply massage, counter pressure, hip squeezes, or to use a long piece of fabric called a rebozo to aid in additional comfort.
As your doulas, we may recommend labouring in an upright position to take advantage of gravity, which may help labour progress quicker. So, (unless you should be sleeping!) we usually recommend you are standing, walking, or sitting upright as much as possible while labouring. When it comes to hands-on comfort measures, the most common place a labouring mothers want to be touched is on her back. The birth ball can be a great place for her to sit, giving doula her or partner access to her back to provide massage or counter pressure, or to once again use the rebozo.
I had a newborn who much preferred to be bounced then to be rocked when he was fussy. The best way to soothe him was to swaddle him up tight and bounce away on my ball, as shown below.
Another great way to use your ball with your new baby is for gas relief! Laying your infant on the ball on their tummy, then gently rolling them back and forth, can help them pass gas or burp!
Once you have been cleared by your doctor you can start using your ball to strengthen your postpartum core. During pregnancy and in your initial postpartum period you want to avoid doing typical abdominal exercises, such as crunches, until you are fully healed and have been evaluated for diastasis recti. Diastasis recti is the vertical separation of your two sets of abdominal muscles. This is caused by your growing uterus pushing your muscles apart during pregnancy. Having diastasis recti can leave you with the "pooch" lower abdomen as well as cause pelvic floor dysfunction. While this condition is very common and usually treatable without surgery, doing certain exercises can make it worse. Please consult with your doctor or midwife before beginning any exercise routine after birth.
That said, there are many common exercises that can be done using your ball! Two of my favourites are planks on the ball (great for core strength without causing or aggravating diastasis recti) and wall squats.
These are just a few of the many ways we use the birth ball before, during and after the birth of your baby! The possibilities are endless, which is why we highly recommend purchasing one. For more information about choosing the correct size of ball, click here.
To end our celebration of World Doula Week 2017, we are giving away a birth ball! We like this Everlast Stability Ball because it is weighted, which makes it more stable. Head on over to our Facebook Page to enter the contest! The winner will be randomly chosen on April 3, 2017.