When I was pregnant with my first child, I had my ideal birthing scenario planned. I was going to relax in the shower, have a snack, maybe dance a little. Anything I could to move my baby down to where he needed to be and speed up labor. A big part of my birth plan was the use of a birthing ball. I was told by my childbirth educator that this was the best way to labor. I just didn't know how to use a birthing ball during labor. I do now, and you should too, so you get the full range of its benefits.
Childbirth is slow and painful, and most women I know will do whatever they can to speed it along. According to a randomized study completed in Taiwan, the benefits of the birthing ball are huge. Not only does it help provide a measure of pain relief for both the vulvar and lower lumbar region, it also speeds the labor along by helping to relax the mother. In the trial, women were seated on a clean ball covered with a pad, and were encouraged to rock back and forth or side to side while supported, in whatever manner made them find the most relief.
I spoke to registered doula Heather Mailey of New Jersey to find out how to use a birthing ball during labor to best exploit its uses and benefits for the laboring mother. She tells Romper, "I rarely attend a birth anymore where there isn't one being used. The benefits are so widely known that it's unheard of for birthing centers and labor and delivery wards not to have one."
She says the first step is to cover the ball with a pad. "While they can and are sanitized between each use, this keeps the ball from becoming slick or from sticking to the mom's legs or vulva while she sits on it. It should also be changed frequently, as women who are in labor tend to leak a lot." I was basically a fountain of fluids, so I definitely understand this one.
"There are a few great strategies for using a birthing ball, but it should be noted that a woman on a ball should always be attended and supported. Contractions are unpredictable, and you don't want to fall off the ball and injure yourself or your baby," Mailey adds. She notes that most moms like to sit right on the ball and make a circular motion with their hips, pressing a little bit on their swollen vulva, giving it some relief from the pressure building behind it. "That little bit of counter pressure does a world of good."
The other maneuver women employ is to get on all fours and hold onto the ball in front of them, leaning down while rocking back and forth. "This is especially comfortable for women who are experiencing back labor. In this position, your doula or partner can massage your back while you're supported and in motion. It's very comfortable." I have never experienced back labor, and I hopefully never do, but I recall a good friend who did, and she said she was on all fours for the duration of her labor.
Mailey says the third most popular position is lying on the bed with the ball between your legs, still pressing up against the vulva so it provides that bouncing counter pressure. "This is key for women who can't get out of bed for any reason. Bring your ankles together and rock into the ball while you lie back. It provides a great deal of relief."
No matter how you choose to use a birthing ball, it's likely that you will at some point in your labor. If it does't feel right for you, though, you shouldn't feel pressured to get on it. This labor is about you, not an apparatus.
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