I recently attended a hospital birth as a doula and a nurse suggested a new technique to shorten labor that I had not seen used before: a peanut ball.
I was familiar with the use of a yoga ball or “birth ball” during labor to help open the pelvis and bring baby down but I had never seen this variation. The nurse suggested it when the baby’s heart rate started showing some slight decelerations when mom was walking around, and since baby was not fully engaged in the pelvis yet, they wanted mom to try laying down to see if that helped. (Short story: laying down helped and so did the peanut ball.)
This piqued my curiosity.
The Benefit of Birth Balls
Birth balls (aka yoga balls) are often recommended during pregnancy and labor to help mom in various ways. There is evidence that they may:
- Improve posture during pregnancy: Sitting on the ball leads to better posture as a person must typically sit up straight and engage the core in order to remain sitting on the ball. For this reason, I’ve heard many midwives recommend that mom use a birth ball as a chair during pregnancy to optimize posture and pelvic floor alignment.
- For optimal positioning and engagement in late pregnancy: When used in late pregnancy, there is some evidence that the ball may help the baby engage in the correct position for labor (meaning shorter and easier labor in some cases) and help the baby move down in the pelvis. In fact, research has shown that sitting on a birth ball may open the pelvis by as much as 30%! There is even some evidence that regular use of a birth ball may encourage a posterior baby to rotate.
- During labor for comfort and positioning: Many hospitals now have birthing balls on their labor and delivery floors for mom to sit on and rock or gently bounce during labor. The theory is that this may help bring baby down during labor and provide relief for mom as well.
These effects have been studied and women who used birth balls regularly during pregnancy typically had shorter labors, less need for pain relief, and fewer c-sections. Of course, if you are pregnant, check with your doctor or midwife to make sure using a birth ball is safe for you and to find out the best ways to use it.
Personally, I’ve used a birth ball during four pregnancies and deliveries, including two in a hospital where we had to bring our own (I’m sure we were a sight when we checked in with me in transition and my husband carrying three bags and a birth ball).
I also love birth balls after labor, as my babies all love to bounce to fall asleep (my mom insists that this is because I’m always moving and never sit still when pregnant so they get used to it). I’ve spent many a late night gently bouncing a baby on a yoga ball while playing classical music.
Birth Ball Exercises
There are many ways to use a birth ball, from switching out your regular desk chair for the ball to more complicated exercises and stretches. These are a few of the ways that have been most helpful and comfortable to me during pregnancy and labor:
- Sitting: Just sitting on the ball has helped my posture and provides comfort and pressure relief in late pregnancy.
- Circles: To help prepare for labor, my midwife once suggested sitting on the ball and rotating my hips clockwise and counterclockwise making a large circular motion.
- Kneeling/Leaning: To help baby get in the right position for labor and to provide relief for back pain, I found it helpful to kneel down and lean over the birth ball so that my chest/shoulders were on the ball and my belly was able to relax and almost make a hammock for the baby. I even found that this position was comfortable to watch a movie or work on the computer if I placed the computer on a coffee table or other low surface.
What is a Peanut Ball?
So birth balls certainly have their benefit, but I’d never seen a peanut ball used before. A peanut ball is basically a double birth ball, connected in the middle. It looks like a peanut, thus the name. (This is what they look like and is very similar to the one they had at the hospital).
Like a birth ball, this can be used to sit on, to stretch, or for better posture (and probably also to bounce a fussy baby (I’ll keep you posted on that one!).
Unlike a birth ball, it doesn’t take circus-like coordination to sit on or to keep between your legs, which is exactly why the hospital used it during labor. Once a mom has to lay down, like in the case of this mom when her baby was having some slight deceleration after contractions, it can help keep the hips in the optimal position for labor and widen the pelvis to speed things up.
I started researching to see if there was any history of use of peanut balls or if this particular hospital had found something new that works. Turns out, both were true.
The use of peanut balls in labor is a relatively new idea but it has already been studied and is being implemented by hospitals looking to reduce c-section rates.
Can a Peanut Ball Shorten Labor?
A healthcare company out of Arizona is equipping all of its labor and delivery wards with peanut balls after a recent study conducted showed a noticeable reduction in c-section rates and labor time in women who used a peanut ball during labor.
This effect was especially pronounced in women who had an epidural, but would be effective in any woman who needed to lie down on her side during labor.
Christina Tussey, a clinical nurse specialist in Arizona decided to test the idea and recruited two groups of women to help: those who would use a peanut ball and those who didn’t. (Of course, this was not a double blind or placebo study as a woman would know that she had an exercise ball between her legs.) She found three noticeable benefits in women who used the peanut balls (source):
- Shorter labors (first stage)– Women who use the peanut ball had an average of a 90 minute first stage labor.
- Shorter pushing phase (second stage)– They also pushed for an average of 23 fewer minutes.
- Fewer C-Sections– The cesarean rate in the group of women who used peanut balls was also 13% less than those who did not. This is a major benefit as many hospitals are trying to reduce c-section rates, as c-section deliveries typically take longer to recover from and have more potential for complications. They also cost more, so there is a big potential to save money for both patient and hospital.
Thanks to the results of this observational study, Banner Health, Arizona’s biggest chain of hospitals, has provided peanut balls to all of its hospitals for use in labor and delivery.
How the Peanut Ball is Used in Labor
As mentioned, the peanut ball is used for any women who needs to remain in bed during labor. Most often, this is because of an epidural, but there are many reasons that a woman may need to lie down and some women just feel more comfortable in this position.
The way I saw the peanut ball used and the way it is suggested in labor is when a woman is lying on her side. She actually shifts her weight so she is leaning slightly toward her stomach and then places her top leg over the peanut ball. The shape of the ball helps her maintain this position, even if she can’t feel or move her legs, and simulates a partial squat position by opening the pelvis.
This allows the laboring mom to rest and relax while still optimizing her pelvis and hopefully speed up labor.
Peanut Ball for Non-Hospital Births?
I’ve actually ordered a peanut ball after seeing it used in labor, even though I don’t plan to have a hospital birth or use an epidural.
Since this is my sixth baby, my hips tend to get sore at the very end of pregnancy and I often find myself using a stack of pillows to relieve the pressure while I am sleeping, though the pillows never seem high enough and they often fall. I’m planning to use the peanut ball in the “labor position” during sleep in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
I have also had long labors in the past (24 hours+) and have had to eventually try to rest, as 24 hours of standing, walking and squatting doesn’t leave much energy for pushing. If this should happen again, I’ll use the peanut ball while resting to keep my pelvis open.
Also, as our regular birth ball just popped with the help of a certain 2-year-old, I’ll also be using the peanut ball for the regular birth ball activities like sitting and exercise.
Have you ever heard of a peanut ball? If you’re pregnant, will you give it a try?
Discussion (44 Comments)
Peanut balls are pretty common here in my part of Colorado. I’ve heard of many friends using them with good results. I bet they’d be a great tool for a homebirth!
I used a peanut ball up until I needed to push & my active labor was about 2.5 hours start to finish!
I don’t know if it was the ball but I was pretty comfortable on it..considering I was in labor ?
My second labor, which was a vbac, was greatly helped by a peanut ball. I had labored off and on for 48 hours and was EXHAUSTED… At the hospital (actually a great hospital in the great state that you mentioned) they had me use the peanut ball while lying on my side. With the help of an epidural, a nap, and the peanut ball I went from 5 to 10 in ~2 hours and pushed out a healthy baby. I’m planning a home birth in April but hadn’t thought about the peanut ball for that. Hmmmm.
I just had my first baby 4 weeks ago and the hospital I had him at had me use a peanut ball (like you I wasn’t aware of this type of ball). I laid on my right side for an hour with the peanut ball between my legs and then switched sides. After both sides the nurse came in to check me an I was dilated to a 10! I had an epidural and prior to the peanut ball I was dilated to a 6. I pushed for an hour and 15 mins and out he came!
Katie thanks for sharing this! I’m super intrigued….
I’m a doula and peanut balls are pretty popular among doulas in my area. I think they’re an awesome tool! I’ve seen (and heard) of some very impressive things happening when they’re used with women who have epidurals and they are such a nice option to use with more restful positions for women who are unblocked. Even a couple of the local hospitals have purchased a few to have on hand after seeing doulas use them!
Thanks for the advice! I live in France and having my first child in August of next year. Not sure if the hosipal here have this.
I had super short labors with my kids. My family history is long, long labors (36 hours). I teach art classes with the traditional horse easel. So, with 150 students a week (12 per hour) I was up and down (basically squats on the easel bench) sitting at the student’s easel or squatting next to them about 6-10 times per kid per hour = about 120 squats an hour, times 14 classes in the week, I was doing about 1680 squats a week, nearly 7000 squats a month! Ha. I didn’t realize how healthy that is for pregnancy, but both my labors for natural childbirth (they said I was high risk due to my advanced age of… 36 and 38) under an hour. Not fun, all dilation, but wow. Healthy babies just popped out literally. 2nd newborn actually crawled herself up from birth area to breast feed within first 20 minutes. Yep. It is true.
You chose to make her do this as opposed to holding right after delivery? Interesting
It’s called the “breastfeeding crawl.”
My daughter did it as well. It was amazing, and it’s very common, when babies and mother are given uninterrupted time together.
It all happened within 4 seconds of my pushing her out. In one single instant, I pushed, and the OB grabbed her and set her on my chest. I pretty much thought I was still pushing. It was an overwhelming moment, but still so awesome to see her wiggle up to my nipple – especially since I didn’t have presence of mind to put her there myself! (This was a natural birth with no interventions). Plus, I was still on my back, and had never nursed before and pretty much had no idea how to properly position her once those 4 seconds passed and it occurred to me to put her to my breast (but I was still pushing out placenta by then, and wouldn’t be able to sit up until my stitches were done.)
I was stunned and shocked and overwhelmed from labor, and couldn’t grasp my bearings enough to hold her before she got herself to the breast. I was in complete awe of her. It was amazing. She’s been a great eater ever since.
How did you decide which size to order? I saw some from 35×75 to 50×100. I know some people use them for specific exercises and may want bigger, but I’d love to use it for sleeping in the 3rd trimester and then during labor! I’m planning a second natural birth, but would love to have any tool that could help my second get into a better position that my first!
In my experience (and other’s who have purchased them) you want 40cm. We read about buying 50cm balls and originally purchased the 50s and they’re just too big in my experience so I ended up purchasing a 40cm. Even with the 40cm I sometimes have to underinflate depending on my client’s needs. 50cm had to be super underinflated to fit comfortably. Basically, you want it wide enough to properly open your hips, but still small enough that it’s comfortable to rest with it between your legs, 40cm meets those requirements from what I’ve seen. GL!
I would love to see birthing chairs become a standard in delivery rooms! When I had my daughter, I was completely able to manage the contractions as long as I sat on the toilet. I was perfectly comfortable and didn’t want to come out of the bathroom because sitting on the toilet was the most comfortable position for me. The minute they asked me to lie down onto the bed it became a whole new ballgame, and not in a good way. Neither I, nor my Doula thought to ask for a birthing chair or a birthing bar. A birthing bar attaches to the hospital bed so Mom can deliver in a squatting position over the bed. A bar is much less comfortable than a birthing chair which supports all of Mom’s body weight, but I still would have preferred squatting over lying down.
Sitting or squatting would have made my completely natural childbirth, even better. My body wanted to remain upright, but all the “professionals” kept telling me I must get into bed. Why? Don’t they realize gravity would be a wonderful asset during childbirth?
Oh yes they do realise and I agree the gravity and upright position works best, just that they can’t see and monitor the progress so it’s convenient to them, not to mum realy. I had my first on my knees, 20min. Pushed, my second with the lie on my back position tools around 1 hour to push, I broke side of that chair, and said I will never do this mistake again. We need the doctors but not to extent that they want to make us needing them.
yes, me too, but since men do not birth our children, nor do the people that don’t ask RN’s what would be best for the laboring woman, I doubt that will happen…………it might not “look nice”, I heard one person say.
Ah, it’s really all about the norm, isn’t it? Birthing in a chair will look quite normal one day- when every birthing room has one! This is my hope and dream anyway. 🙂 You know, just realized I never addressed the original topic, lol. A birthing peanut would be neat! I used a ball at home, and the hospital provided one during labor as well. I’d try the peanut too!