Friday, June 15, 2012

The Benefits of Birth Balls

Birth Balls aren't really a new idea anymore. But just incase you were wanting to know a bit more on their benefits I thought I would blog this up for ya. 
They are really a great investment. They are perfect for the entire pregnancy, labor and beyond!




What is a Birth Ball?



A Birth Ball is just a physical therapy/ excersie ball, but when used during pregnancy we like to call it a birth ball. It actually has a lot of great uses:

  • It can be used in prenatal and postpartum fitness programs.
  • When used in late pregnancy can help encourage the baby to engage in the OA position (the ideal position for labor)
  • It can be used for comfortable positioning during childbirth 
  • As well as for comforting the baby after birth.

How does sitting on a birth ball in pregnancy benefit you?
Sitting upright on the Birth Ball you have to assume proper posture. It is the perfect position to be in as much as possible during late pregnancy. It is highly recommended that during the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy women sit on the birth ball as much as possible while watching TV, relaxing or at the computer. (But the sooner the better in regards to sitting on the ball!)




I can't stress enough that sitting on the birth ball is really the best place to sit, to encourage proper fetal positioning!! Abandon your couch!

Why?
Sitting upright helps the abdomen be a hammock for the baby and encourages the baby to settle in an anterior position when the mother’s ligaments and fascia are balanced and she hasn’t waited too long to start sitting on the ball. Start before pregnancy, if you can, but start when you can.

How? 
Sit so that your feet are flat and apart, so that your feet and the center of the ball make a tripod when you sit down on it. The ball should be firm and big enough so that your hips are equal or higher than your knees.




Sitting upright on the Birth Balls achieves the following:

  • Increases blood flow to the uterus, placenta and baby
  • Relieves spinal pressure 
  • Provides comfortable support for knees and ankles
  • Provides counter-pressure to the perineum and thighs
  • Upright posture works with gravity encouraging the descent of the baby
  • Mom's can incorporate movement while resting by leaning forward, pelvic rocking, swaying, doing hip circles and figure eights, and gently bouncing to help move the baby down
  • Can increase the pelvic outlet as much as 30%, which also encourages baby's decent



How does being on Hands and Knees position with a birth ball in pregnancy benefit you?
You can also use your birth ball in pregnancy and labor to assist you in the hands and knees position (an excellent position to adopt for parts of the day to encourage good fetal positioning.) Using the birth ball in this position can:

  • Helps relieve back discomfort and pain
  • Mom's can pelvic rock and reduce tension in the lower back
  • Putting the weight of the upper body on the ball takes the weight off your wrists
  • Encourages rotation of a posterior baby
  • May relieve pressure on swollen anterior lip of cervix (in labor)



To Get into Labor:
Doing vigorous circles or figure eights on the ball can help get the baby’s head on the cervix.
SpinningBabies.com has some great suggestions in this instance.


The Birth Ball in Labor:
Childbirth Experts and researchers throughout the world have validated that standing, sitting and walking help to shorten labor by 25-40%. When a woman remains upright and active during labor her contractions are stronger, more regular and frequent, which quickens labor progress.

Using a Birth Ball can make rhythmic movement, changing positions and remaining upright easier. Fatigue is decreased when a woman can rest part of her body on the ball. The ball provides support to hip joints, knees, and ankles so the woman can be mobile for longer periods of time.

How does an upright position make such a difference in labor?

  • Uterine contractions are more effective in bringing the baby through the pelvis if the mother is upright and can lean forward. A muscle that is required to work against gravity will tire more easily.
  • Pressure from the baby’s head on the cervix remains constant when a woman is positioned upright – so cervical dilation may occur more rapidly. (During active labor, midwife Gail Tully of Spinning Babies, advises laboring women to sit on the ball and move their bodies in vigorous circles to help gently push baby’s head down towards the cervix. Perform these circles in 20-minute increments, accompanied by lively music, changing the directions of the circles periodically. If contractions are more than 3 to 4 minutes apart, alternate abdominal lifts--performed by linking your hands under your belly and lifting it up--with the circles.)
  • Pelvic mobility is increased during pregnancy by hormones that soften the ligaments in the pelvis. A woman’s pelvic outlet increases as much as 30% when squatting and leaning forward, so the baby may descend more easily during labor and birth. Supported squatting with keeping the knees above the hips offers optimal perineal stretching; less muscular effort; optimal oxygen and blood flow to the baby; and the most effective angle for descent of the baby.
  • Blood flow to the uterus, placenta and infant are more optimal when a woman labors in an upright position. Fetal distress is actually less likely to occur, so the newborn's condition is more stable at birth. When a woman labors in a reclining position, blood flow to the uterus is decreased; oxygen to the uterus and the baby are decreased; and maternal blood pressure increases.
  • When a woman is semi-reclining, the baby’s head puts pressure on the pelvic nerves in the sacrum, increasing pain during contractions. Much less pressure is placed on these nerves if the woman remains upright, leans forward and remains off her back.
  • Gravity enhances uterine contractions and maternal bearing down effort. It is definitely more difficult to push a baby out when a woman is recumbent and essentially pushing uphill.



How can a birth ball assist you in remaining upright?
STANDING: The laboring woman can tolerate standing longer when she rests her upper body on a birth ball that is placed on a bed or stationary chair.
KNEELING: Women often kneel to relieve the pain of back labor and to encourage the rotation of a posterior position baby. Kneeling over the birth ball and rocking or rotating the hips is more comfortable and counter pressure is easier to apply when the woman is in a forward leaning position.
SITTING UPRIGHT: When a woman sits upright on the birth ball she often remarks that her back immediately feels better! She can easily rock back and forth and she finds that the ball provides counter pressure on her perineum and thighs.


What else is a birth ball good for?
POSTPARTUM: 
  • You may find your birth ball more comfortable to sit on than a hard chair, particularly if your perineum is sore. You can deflate your ball a little to make it softer and take the pressure off any stitches or bruising. 
  • You could sit on your ball while you're breastfeeding once you've got the hang of getting your baby latched on. It's likely to be better for your posture than slumping on the sofa while feeding.
  • After birth and recovery women may want to use the birth ball in a postpartum exercise program. 

BABY SOOTHING:
  • Infants craves movement to stimulate his/her nervous system, ad the rhythmic movements on the birth ball can help foster healthy development of the baby.
  • The birthing ball can also help calm a fussy or colicky baby.  Once you are securely seated on the ball, take the baby in your arms.  While patting him, bounce gently, letting the rhythmic motion soothe and quiet the baby.  Or while standing, place the infant stomach down on the ball, hold securely and bounce gently.  The soft pressure may ease a stomachache.

*For more of my healthy pregnancy tips click here.

(Update 7/18/12: After sitting on the birth ball almost exclusively for the last month of my pregnancy (as well as frequently before that), and using it to do hip circles, as well as aid in being in the hands and knees position. I did go on to have a safe and healthy VBAC. Of course I also employed other helpful things from my healthy pregnancy tips.
I did not personally, use the birth ball during my labor, but have friends who loved it for theirs. 
I did however find the birth ball one of the nicest places to sit in my house after about 2 days of letting my episiotomy heal.
You can read my birth story here.)

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