Bouncing on a yoga ball feels a little bit silly—who can forget Dwight K. Schrute sitting pretty at his desk in “The Office” atop a silver rendition of this gym prop—but it seems that looking kinda goofy is well worth it for expectant mothers.
Previously, yoga and stability balls and other similar props like the peanut ball (shaped exactly like its namesake) were used by prenatal moms as a comfortable seat. As pregnancy progresses, most women find sitting in a chair for long periods of time or sitting in a static position extremely uncomfortable. Because a stability ball is a responsive seat—it’s constantly in motion thanks to its round shape, forcing the person using it to perform micromovements to re-negotiate their balance on the ball—it can be more comfortable than a traditional chair for anyone with lower back or hip pain.
But sitting on a comfy, air-filled ball does more than ease sore muscles. It’s been proven to decrease the chance of having a Cesarean section by nearly 13 percent, decrease the length of the first stage of labor by 90 minutes, and the second (more painful) stage of labor by 30 minutes.
Natural childbirth, as women have experienced it for centuries, is rarely executed laying down on a bed or table. Instead, women would move, sway, rock, sit, and squat to facilitate the birthing process. But with modern pain medicine like the all-powerful epidural, laboring mothers are relegated to going through birth lying down. After an epidural is given, labor usually slows down; even though there is less pain for the mother the actual labor process can continue for hours longer, which isn’t necessarily the healthiest option for the baby.
A peanut ball or yoga ball is beneficial in a few ways.
1. They help decrease the perception of pain. According to a study from the National Taipei University of Nursing and Health Sciences, of the 188 expectant mothers who were given an exercise ball to work with and sit on for six to eight weeks before birth and then during labor. Forty percent of women in the study found that they could manage their pain better and had a decreased need for pain medication or an epidural.
2. Banner Health Medical Centers in Arizona have mandated that every labor room in their facilities throughout the state are equipped with birthing and peanut balls thanks to their effect on decreasing C-sections. Using one, either while laying down or sitting helps to increase pelvic diameter, which is necessary during birth for the baby to naturally descend into the birth canal. That means that even if they opt for an epidural to help with pain, women can use a peanut ball to speed up the labor process. Since adding these props to their labor and delivery rooms, Banner Health has noticed a significant decrease in the occurrence of unplanned C-sections or instrument-assisted vaginal deliveries, including the use of a vacuum or forceps.
3. The use of a peanut ball can make sleeping much more comfortable for expectant mothers. As the hips widen to prepare for birth, sleeping on one side can get pretty tricky for women in their last trimester, and often leads to hip and back pain. A peanut ball placed between knees alleviates back and hip pain by keeping alignment in the body organized. Popular blogger Wellness Mama, who is pregnant with her sixth child and has used a birthing ball to help with labor in the past, credits the funny shaped prop with better sleep during the final months of pregnancy.
And a yoga ball isn’t relegated to the garage or closet once baby is born—moms (and dads!) can use it to help strengthen core muscles that are stretched and weakened during pregnancy. Here are a few ways to use a stability ball during a workout:
- Replace your office chair with a yoga ball to help improve postural muscles.
- Perform a plank with hands or forearms pressing into the top of the ball and feet planted firmly on the ground. Make this more challenging by flipping your body position—hands on the ground, and feet on the stability ball to hold your plank.
- Do regular crunches on the ball, laying flat on your back.
- For a really challenging (aka six pack–chiseling) option, sit on the ground with the ball in front of you. Place legs against the ball, with straight knees. Roll all the way back so you’re laying down with legs up on the ball, and then sit all the way up so your body looks like a V. Hold for five seconds, then release down.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho