What Is a Birthing Ball?

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on February 11, 2024
2 min read

Also known as labor balls or birth balls, birthing balls are similar to the balls used in physical therapy clinics. Instead of lying immobile on your back during labor, you can use a birthing ball. It keeps you upright and active, and it helps relieve the pain of childbirth. Being mobile also lets you feel in control of the birthing process. 

If you go to a gym, you may already be familiar with these balls. Birthing balls are also known as gym balls, Swiss balls, Swedish balls, and balance balls.

A birthing ball is made of a non-skid material that will not burst. When inflated, it is 65 to 75 centimeters in size. Birthing balls are covered with a non-slip material so that they won't slide on the floor. 

You may need pain relief during labor but may not want to take drugs. Birthing balls are a non-pharmacological method that provides significant pain relief.  

A birthing ball does not have any chemicals or drugs. It helps relieve pain, keeps you mobile, and increases your pelvic room.

A birthing ball is inexpensive and simple to use. Some benefits are: 

  • Reduced pain intensity
  • Satisfaction with pain relief
  • Feeling in control of your childbirth experience
  • Higher satisfaction with the childbirth experience

Birthing ball use during labor may also increase your pelvic outlet space. This creates more room for your baby to be born.  

Using a birthing ball may also speed the progression of labor. Using epidural anesthesia may provide pain relief during labor, but it slows labor and may be likelier to lead to the use of vacuum and forceps delivery and to a cesarean section.

If you choose to use a birthing ball during delivery, a midwife or physiotherapist with training in its use must supervise you. 

A birthing ball supports you without slipping along the floor. You can sit against it or on top of it. Being upright is an advantage when you are in labor because it speeds up labor and promotes the descent of your baby's head into the pelvis. The pressure of your baby's head on the cervix enhances uterine contractions. 

Your midwife or physiotherapist will teach you several positions, including: 

  • Sitting on the birthing ball
  • Kneeling near the ball and leaning forward to hug it
  • Squatting down
  • Combinations of the above exercises  

Ideally, you should start many weeks or months before birth. You can use the birthing ball for exercise and practice balancing.  

When you use the birthing ball during labor, you will feel pain relief after 20 to 90 minutes.